Archive for February, 2011

Five Reasons Why “Modernist Cuisine” is The Most Important Culinary Book of the Decade

Posted 28 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

The Five Reasons Why “Modernist Cuisine” is The Most Important Culinary Book of the Decade

Chef Maxime Bilet and Nathan Myhrvold plating a course

I am trailing a small group of people including food writers, professional chefs, and culinary educators, being led by Nathan Myhrvold through the varying nooks and crannies of his IVF laboratories in Bellevue, Washington.  Myhrvold, dressed in dark slacks and a stark white short-sleeved chef coat, is animated his voice pitching up an octave from time to time as he gets excited. He is showing us The Cooking Lab with all its technology, tools, and toys. It dawns on me that he is Willy Wonka and I am a very lucky Charlie Bucket. There are fourteen of us here tonight, each with a golden ticket. Our purpose is to experience a 28 course menu prepared by Myhrvold’s team in celebration of the release of Modernist Cuisine; a book authored by Myrvold and chefs Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. Myhrvold is showing us around the lab as a warm up to what will be a dinner of the century later in the evening. In the first room he shows us a microwave oven that he cut in half, magnetron tube and all, so it could be photographed for the book. Next, pink cheeks aglow and smiling with excitement, he shows us the electric plasma cutter he used to slice other pieces of equipment in half and a high powered water jet cutter where he custom fabricates all sorts of matter.  Why? Because he can!

Myhrvold shaves Sea Urchin “bottarga” for Pim Techamuanvivit while Chef David Kinch looks on.

I find him energized, brilliant, and immediately likeable, and intellectually one of the smartest (if not the smartest) person I have ever met. Myhrvold has invited a diverse group to this dinner and is completely aware of how amazed (and jealous I must admit) we are by his laboratory. Chef Sam Mason, former pastry chef at WD50 is to my left, tattoos bursting with color (he radiates cool), and the shy, extremely talented and kind David Kinch of Manresa is to my right, dapper in a blue sweater and knit scarf. Ahead of me, the legendary and statesmanlike Harold McGhee, the original curious cook, is peering at an electron microscope as global food expert and rock-star blogger Pim Techamuanvivit (Chez Pim)takes photos. In 2010 Fast Company called her one of the most influential women in technology. How the hell was I lucky enough to get on this list? Myhrvold passes by an electron microscope and a large printed image of what appears to be the roundworm Trichinella spiralisis taken using the device while researching content for Modernist Cuisine. I am floored that these folks have their own electron microscope and notice that Myhrvold is smiling at us. What fun!

Chef Sam Mason downs a glass of Foie Gras Egg Nog, Myhrvold to his right, Chef Chris Young to his left.

We turn another corner in the lab and make a loop back to the IVF kitchen where two tables of eight have been set for our dinner. Myhrvold wraps on a blue apron, explains that we will enjoy 28 courses that are intended to show the range of techniques and recipes featured in Modernist Cuisine rather than a menu focused on a logical progression of flavor (although that was a consideration too I am sure). We all sit excited with anticipation, and fasten our seat belts. It’s 6:45 P.M. PST and our first course is placed on the table: Asian pear, Watermelon and Spicy Pickle Chips. The pears, watermelon and pickles are sliced, coated with modified starch slurry, compressed in vacuum bags, removed from compression, patted dry and fried. I have never had crispy watermelon before and it’s delicious. The pickles are even better. My mind drifts for a moment as I look around at the other guests and realize we are in for a night.

Chef Maxime Bilet with centrifuged pea juice

The rest of the meal ebbs and flows from extremely simple items like the fourth course of grilled chicken skin glazed with pineapple and Sansho pepper (cooked sous vide for 12 hours prior to grilling, powerful chicken flavor, crisp, deeply savory, addictive) to the incredibly beautiful and complex thirteenth course of rare beef stew (an extraction of beef broth kept rare through separation in a commercial centrifuge poured over the most beautiful three Michelin star composition of garniture).

I provide detailed descriptions of the meal and with photos at

It’s 10:34 PM now and I am chewing on the last of 28 courses: fresh made olive oil, vanilla, and thyme gummy worms. Myhrvold, radiating with positive energy, holds up the fish lure molds he used to make the gummy worms and explains the recipe to make them (for more buy the book). They are the best damn gummy worms I have ever had. I close my eyes for a second to soak in the moment and consider how blessed I am to be here. Every once in a while life comes to a complete stop and I realize that I am experiencing first hand significant moments in the evolution of our profession. Tonight is one of those nights and Myhrvold, Young, and Bilet, have sent us crashing through a glass ceiling of culinary practice. I hover in mid-air over his lab in Bellevue Washington looking down on the city below. My golden ticket still in hand, it is clear that the culinary profession will be profoundly changed by the tremendous gift Myhrvold and his team has given to the profession.

I offer below five simple reasons why Modernist Cuisine is the most important book of the decade. Note that I feel the five reasons listed are a gross understatement of the real value and importance of Modernist Cuisine.

The Modernist Cuisine team at The Cooking Lab

Reason 1: The Perspective and Intellect of Nathan Myhrvold

Myhrvold’s intellect is of a level and type unique in the world. He is one part Thomas Edison and another Auguste Escoffier. That food and cooking caught his attention and that Modernist Cuisine is the result is an enduring gift to the culinary profession. His perspective and intellect inform the many discoveries, schema, and taxonomy that appear in the book. Without Myhrvold’s mind as a lens, the new discoveries and syntheses of prior practice would not have achieved the level of innovation documented in the book. Nathan Myhrvold is the first reason why Modernist Cuisine is the culinary book of the decade and we should thank him for sharing his intellect, curiosity, and resources (he funded this work himself).

Reason 2: Modernist Cuisine Places Modern Cooking into the Context of Traditional Cooking

Modernist Cuisine is not about molecular gastronomy, it’s about linking modern cooking with traditional cooking in an evolutionary and, subsequently, revolutionary way. Just as Escoffier (and others) codified classical cuisine in the late 19th and early 20thcentury, Myhrvold and his team have done the same from a modernist perspective. Historically, something of this magnitude tends to happen once a century. The influence of Modernist Cuisine will be nothing short of Le Guide Culinaire and will probably exceed it from a historical perspective. Basic scientific method was used to unpack the science behind cooking and food without any sacrifice to the aesthetic or emotion to food or dining. Myrvold, Young, and Bilet took this scientific knowledge and polished it with a solid understanding of the aesthetics and creativity that underlie a great dining experience. In turn they discovered many new and tantalizing facts and techniques. Modernist Cuisine is about using scientific principles to inform food preparation in pursuit of making food and a dining experience better. Through it all, Myhrvold and his team repeatedly state that in order to understand modern cooking you must start with a firm understanding of traditional cooking from which to build.  I am reassured by the notion that Modernist Cuisine is rooted, in part, in the traditional. The baby wasn’t thrown out with the bathwater; instead the water was tossed and replaced with fresh water precisely heated with a thermal circulator.

Reason 3: Modernist Cuisine is Incredibly Thorough and a Great Value

The breadthand depth of topics covered in the book, all 2438 pages worth, is expansive. Myhrvold must have spent a fortune unpacking each of the topics he covers and there are few organizations or individuals on the planet that could have matched the effort, passion, and completeness of his coverage. There are five volumes in the set including: 1)History & Fundamentals, 2) Techniques and Equipment, 3) Animals and Plants, 4) Ingredients & Preparations, and 5) Plated Dish Recipes. Although priced at $625 per set, Modernist Cuisine represents a tremendous value when you consider its content. $625 is a small price to pay.

Reason 4: Modernist Cuisine is Advanced Professional Cooking and is Approachable

The book is written in easy to understand language. Myhrvold, Young, and Bilet were thoughtful about keeping the narrative easy to read. They offer thousands of photos, illustrations, and diagrams including  innovative models like a periodic table of essential oils and a table of egg custards. The “parametric” recipe format used is virtually foolproof as long as you can precisely measure. The team has produced a volume that is within reach of most cooks young or old, professional or not.

Reason #5: Modernist Cuisine Throws Convention on its Head

I thought, after 30 years of professional cooking, I knew what I was doing. Myhrvold proved me wrong and demonstrates that we barely know anything about the real science of cooking and food. While sitting in his IVF conference room, Myhrvold had an assistant place a vitimix on the conference table. She proceeded to pour a 750ml bottle of red wine into the blender and then she fired it up, pulsing for four or five times. Then she poured the wine into glasses and we did a side by side comparison of the aerated wine and the same wine straight from the bottle. We all tasted and the aerated wine was wonderful. Point made: wine can be aerated in seconds using a blender. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before (my oenology friends are probably squirming)? This is just one example of how Myhrvold throws convention on its head. The point of this isn’t to raise the dander on sommeliers across the country, it’s to prove that much of what we practice in our profession is handed down from generation to generation without any regard for the science behind what we practice or concern for improving practice based on this science. Modernist Cuisine will shift us in the right direction.

Dinner at The Cooking Lab: 28 Courses of Modernist Cuisine

Posted 28 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Dinner at The Cooking Lab: An Evening of Modernist Cuisine

This is a posting of thirty photos from a recent dinner at Nathan Myhrvold’s cooking lab in Bellevue, Washington. The dinner was a celebration of modernist cuisine and the release of Myhrvold, Young, and Bilet’s new book by the same name. (to purchase Modernist Cuisine visit A more detailed description of this gathering of professional chefs, writers, can be found at

Note: I prefer to post the photos of each course served in this format so each can be viewed with a detailed description and in the order served. The notations made under each item are taken from guidelines distributed during the dinner. Special thanks to Dr. Myhrvold, Chris Young, Maxime Bilet and the rest of the The Cooking Lab team along with the esteemed guests I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with.

Modernist Cuisine

#1: Asian Pear, Watermelon, and Spicy Pickle Chips (starch compression)

Asian pear, watermelon and spicy pickles that have been thinly sliced, coated with modified starch slurry and fried at a medium high temperature until crispy.


#2: Roasted Corn Elote (freeze drier, N-Zorbit powder)

Freeze dried yellow corn kernels with brown butter powder, spicy mayonnaise, cilantro blossoms, Lime and Ash Powder.


#3: Cheese Soufflé (constructed, re-heatable, soufflé, N-Zorbit crumble)

Delicate gruyere cheese soufflé steamed and baked with a cheese crumble. The soufflé is a mixture of intense cheese water, egg yolks, albumin powder and corn maltodextrin. The crumble is made from grated cheese blended with N-Zorbit. After steaming, the soufflés are topped with the cheese crumble, baked and served.


#4: Grilled Chicken Skin (sous vide skin gelatinizing)

Sous vide cooked, fried and grilled chicken skin, glazed with pineapple and seasoned with sansho pepper. The chicken skin is cooked sous vide for 12 hours so the skin doesn’t recoil when fried.


#5: Foie Gras Egg Nog (warm constructed cream)

Warm emulsified soup of pressure rendered foie gras fat and roasted shallot juice spiked with Calvados. The cream is equal parts foie fat and shallot juice emulsified with a rotor stator homogenizer.


#6: Green Apple and Fresh Wasabi Snow Ball (vacuum aerated sorbet, frozen fluid gel powder)

Aerated green apple juice sorbet with frozen fresh wasabi powder. The apple juice is slightly thickened with glucose, albumin and gelatin and transferred to a whipping siphon. It is famed into a mason jar inside a vacuum chamber to hold the vacuum. The jars are deep frozen…how cool is that!


#7: Foie Gras Rocher (frozen, molded foie gras)

Foie gras parfait with a hazelnut core, coated in rich hazelnut praline and rolled in hazelnut crumble, garnished with a sliver of Meyer lemon. The foie parfait is molded, deep frozen and dipped, then very carefully halved on a band saw while frozen.


#8: Chickpea Tajine (sous vide chickpeas, pressure cooked pine nuts)

Sous vide chickpeas and pressure cooked pinenuts braised in a preserved lemon tajine jus. Garnished with a salad of Cara Cara orange, beldi olives, black caraway, argan oil, pickled dried fig and mint, finished with a roasted sesame yoghurt.




 #9: Oyster Cocktail (liquid nitrogen shucking)

Preparation 1: Shigoku Oyster with chufa nut horchata and finger lime droplets

Preparation 2: Shingoku Oyster with ponzu, hazelnut oil and smoked char roe


#10: Ankimo, Yuzu, Enoki, Pear (sous vide torchon, centrifuged juice)

Ankimo (Monkfish liver) torchon, centrifuged pear juice seasoned with honey vinegar, fresh yuzu and white soy, enoki salad dressed with macadamia oil, ficoide glaciale, Asian pear.


#11: Spaghetti Vongole (centrifuged broth)

Goeduck clam “noodles” dressed with garlic confit oil, bagna cauda broth, sea beans, goeduck belly, maitake and walnut marmalade, dried miso powder. The Goeduck siphons are split, sliced into sheets and pounded in sous vide bags to allow them to be cut into noodles.


#12: Squash Soup (pressure cooker and baking soda)

Caramelized squash soup, sunchoke ice cream, chaat masala, flash pickled Fuji apples. The baking soda increases the pH allowing for deeper browning and intense aroma and flavor. 


#13: Beef Stew (low temperature extraction, cured, sous vide marrow)

Rare beef broth, sous vide cooked small root vegetables, curd marrow, pressure cooked barley, chard leaves. Beef cubes are cooked sous vide at 53C for 4 hours. They are pressed with a wine press and the resulting juice is then centrifuged.


#14: Shellfish Bisque (sous vide stock, centrifuged carotene, enzyme peeled citrus)

Shellfish broth with coconut cream powder, carrots cooked in carotene butter, young coconut noodles, mandarin and lemon verbena.


#15: Mushroom Cappuccino (sous vide infusion, siphon foam)

Intense mushroom broth with warm bacon Chantilly


#16: Raw Egg Shooter (reverse spherification)

Raw “quail egg” of passion fruit yolk, lemongrass white and a few drops of chili oil. A reverse spherification is used; the setting bath has alginate and the set liquid has calcium to provide a finer membrane. The white is given its texture with a combination of xanthan gum and locust bean gum


#17: Polenta Marinara (pressure cooker and mason jars)

Grits cooked in corn juice with a quince, Bartlett pear “marinara” toasted corn husk consommé, ricotta salata and basil


#18: Kelp with Sea Urchin (gluten enforced fresh pasta, constructed bottarga)

Cocoa pasta sheets dressed in cocoa butter, sea urchin tongues, sea urchin butter, salted candied grapefruit, tarragon and a shaving of sea urchin bottarga.


#19: Mushroom Omelet (constructed egg stripes, combi-oven steam)

Black trumpet mushroom and egg striped with aerated scrambled egg based, mushroom marmalade and fines herbs. The egg stripes are created using a pastry comb on a silicone baking sheet.


#20: Marble Salmon with Spiced Butter (ultra stable beurre blanc)

Sous vide salmon with butter composed of coriander seed, sesame seed, roasted hazelnut, white poppy, ginger and chamomile. It is served with a beurre blanc of sake, white soy, shiro miso and lime and garnished with shiitake, bok choy and sorrel.


#21: Roast Chicken, Jus Gras

(combi oven roast program for chicken, heat stable jus gras, pressure cooked vegetables confit)

Roasted chicken with a rich emulsified gravy of dark chicken just and pressure rendered chicken fat. Accompanied by vegetables that are pressure cooked in mason jars with chicken fat. These are garnished with an herb salad dressed with quince vinegar vinaigrette. The chicken roast program includes injecting the chicken with brine and hanging it for three days refrigerated to desiccate the skin. The chicken is cooked in dry heat at 60C until it reaches temperature, rested for 30 minutes. Prior to service it is brushed with oil and roasted at 300C for 6-7 minutes until deeply roasted and crisp.


#22: Pastrami and Sauerkraut

(72 hour sous vide, precise curing and brining, fermentation, dehydrated bread)

Short rib pastrami, house-made sauerkraut with sweet onions, Brussels sprout leaves with fish sauce butter, cognac mustard with pickled mustard seeds, black bread crisps. The ribs are brined, smoked, dry rubbed and cooked sous vide for 72 hours.


#23: “BBQ” (high tech smoking, sous vide, centrifuged sauce, ultrasonic fries)

Hot smoked spareribs, cold smoked flat iron, Kansas City, South Carolina and MC Barbecue sauces served with ultrasonic fries. The ultrasonic fries are made by cooking large fries sous vide until tender. They are cavitated in an ultrasonic bath while warm to create lots of invisible fissures. The final product is deep fried resulting in fries that are furry with a crispy outer texture.


#24: Goat Milk Ricotta (fresh ricotta, centrifuged pea puree layers, essential oil)

Fresh goat milk ricotta with pea juice, pickled lemons, cinnamon, walnut and pea butter toast. The peas are centrifuged yielding pea juice and pea “fat” which has the same intense pea flavor with the texture of butter.


#25: Pistachio Gelato (frozen constructed cream)

Dairyless, eggless pistachio gelato with cocoa nibs, candied black olives, and Arlettes. The cream is made with pistachio butter, pistachio oil, water, sugar and an emulsifier, all churned in a Pacojet.


#26: Pots de Crème (combi oven steam, cold infusion, vacuum reduction, acid coagulation)

The first cream (L to R)is a cold infused coffee egg custard finished with a smoked egg yolk curd. The second is a vacuum reduced whisky sabayon on top of centrifuged banana juice fluid gel. The third is a cold infused earl grey posset garnished with sous vide lemon curd.


#27: Caramel Mou (sweet, savory caramel, edible film)

Gruyere cheese caramel, cheese water film. Grated cheese and cheese water are added to a basic caramel base. The cheese film is set with agar and gelatin.


#28: Gummy Worms (oil gel, fish lure molds)

Olive oil, vanilla, and thyme gummy worms made with 200 bloom gelatin, gum Arabic.

Alinea Restaurant: Reflecting on Excellence

Posted 21 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Table Top

Reading Christopher Borelli’s March 15th story about Chef Grant Achatz in the Chicago Tribune last week motivated me to finish up this posting about my first trip to Alinea. Borelli’s story piqued my interest and left me emotionally mixed due to the subtle rancor it exposed between Achatz and Chef Charlie Trotter, a rancor that has existed for years. Those of you who read this blog know that I admire Charlie Trotter and consider him a friend. He has made an indelible mark on American cuisine and, to my dismay is occasionally vilified for his intense personality and leadership style. It seems at times that people fail to notice his incredible heart and his enduring commitment and contributions to the profession. We are all fickle at times.

Achatz, on the other hand, is a true inspiration. I know him by two degrees of separation through a very good friend who worked as poissonnier at the French Laundry when Achatz was the chef de cuisine there and through several others who have stagieired with him. Achatz’s reputation is stellar and those that have worked for him stay in contact and consider him a friend. They speak of him with deep admiration of an authentic and heartwarming kind. That Achatz earned three Michelin stars delights me; that Trotter did not is saddening. In all forms of art there is a natural passing of the guard as generations shift, new talent emerges, and earlier icons transition to the background. In such a physically demanding profession, this is the cycle of life. Examples from the profession are too numerous to mention. I know Trotter could achieve 3 stars if he chooses, he and his team have the talent, drive, and resources. Time will tell.

Rather than see this cycle of change as unnatural or competitive like a foot race where a younger culinary runner outstrips an older runner who used to run a four minute mile, I see it as a relay race where Trotter burned a lap or two at his peak and has now handed the baton, begrudgingly, to Achatz. Someday Achatz will go through the same cycle and relinquish the baton to another younger culinary runner. Alinea is the restaurant in Chicago right now, one of the top 5 in the country, and Grant’s legacy is assured. However, Trotter’s legacy will remain intact too even as Achatz takes the lead role. Had Michelin come through in the 1990’s or early 2000’s, Trotter would have three stars. These are the mixed feelings that come to mind as I write of my delightful experience at Alinea; one that is on par and compares with my first trip to Charlie Trotter’s way back in the early 1990’s.


It’s cold and dark and I think my cab driver is lost on the north side of Chicago. The address we are searching for is on North Halstead and that’s where we are, heading north but we can’t find our destination. We are desperately scanning the rows of brownstones for 1723 North Halstead home of Grant Achatz’s Alinea. I know we are in the right place but there’s nothing but row houses along the street. Its 9:20PM and my reservation is for 9:30. I am starting to get pissed, concerned that the cab driver took me to the wrong location. I wonder if I should get out of the cab and walk a while, but the street is deserted and I worry I won’t be able to find another cab if I am in the wrong place and have to back-track. The driver pulls over and we try to figure things out.

That’s when we see a bunch of people congregating around the entry of a two story loft like building made of grey brick and glass. It has to be Alinea. There is no big sign, no flashing lights or anything else. You arrive at Alinea when you find it. A stark contrast to the press and hype that Chef Achatz has endured these past five years, his name in lights everywhere but here. I pay and tip the cab driver feeling apologetic for assuming he was at fault and make my way across the street relieved to be on time and feeling excited.

In the dining room now, I am greeted and escorted directly to my table, a stark square table with a dark wooden top. The dining room is modern, equally as stark and comfortably spaced. Sitting alone for a bit I check out the service ware, glassware is Spiegelau, china is Bernadaud or custom made (as I will soon find out). Scanning the room while I wait, there are two waist-high buffets pushed up against a wall with white cloth tops, the servers using them as side stations. I continue to wait. The sound of a barely audible acoustic guitar floats from the sound system in the background. I unwind and relax. This environment feels cool and relaxing in a minimalist, Zen-like way.

Finally my server approaches, introduces himself and asks if I am planning to have the 12 or 22 course menu. This is an interesting question and one that I didn’t expect considering the fact that I wasn’t provided with a menu yet. Intuition firing, it becomes clear that the rules at Alinea are different so I ask how things work. My server educates me. The rules of the game require that I order from either the 12 course or 22 course menu. The menus are prix fixe and “engineered” for maximum flavor, balance, and creativity but can be adjusted for food allergies (not any) and dietary restrictions (none, thank you). Other than that, you are along for the ride and eat what you get. And this is where things get interesting. My meal was breathtaking and full of surprises and emotions unlike any other I have had before. Here’s a recap.


Croquette of Steelhead Roe with Parisienne of Cucumber, Sour Cream with Endive, Fried Caper and Steelhead Roe.

The little white ceramic pedestal this dish is served on intrigues me. That it is piping hot in the middle with so many tiny little garnishes blows my mind. Achatz’s mise en place must be pristine.


Lightly Grilled baby Octopus with Shiso and Broth

Another complicated dish with another twist added, the server hands you the bowl and warns not to put it down. Once you have the bowl in your hand, you must engage this dish and eat it. To keep things simple, a fork full of octopus is balanced on the edge of the bowl and ready for consumption. A quick bite off the fork and a couple of sips of the broth and it’s done. Servers rush in to take the bowl before it rolls across the table.


Golden Chanterelle Puree with Curry, Spinach, Dijon, Tomato and Apricot, Cured Ham, Carrot Foam

I have to admit that the thought of curry, apricot and Dijon didn’t initially appeal to me but once I tasted this dish I loved it. The deep savory mushroom puree with its silky texture served as a perfect base for the additional garnish and none of the garnishes were lost in this dish. Each brought its own notes of complimentary texture and flavor.


Celery Water and Apple Juice inside a Coco butter shell, Micro Celery Fronds

When the server places a top-heavy crystal clear shot glass with a tiny white ball and some green liquid in front of me, I am once again intrigued. The server warns to suck this item down like a shooter and to keep my mouth shut once I have the ball in my mouth to prevent it from exploding out across the table. In it goes…and wham…there’s an explosion. The cocoa butter ball totally bursts open upon impact and melts in milliseconds on contact with my tongue. The apple juice is tart and washes it down leaving a perfectly clean palate. Just incredible.


Monkfish Loin Fillet and Liver Quenelle with Banana Lime Pudding, Crispy Monkfish Tail, Dehydrated Onion Paper, Chive and Snowy Ramp

This dish is served in a lovely Luna plate is by “O” and it looks a bit like a commode. The presentation is striking if not subdued. Although a contrast in flavors that are rich and lean, savory, sweet, and acidic, this dish is also a real treat in contrast including smooth (quenelle), creamy (pudding), toothsome (loin), and crisp (tail and onion).


Juniper Duck 3 Ways with Wine Braised Turnips, Duck Leg Confit, Sliced Cured Duck Breast, Duck Craklings, Whipped Yogurt Water and Mango

My server places a pillow in a white linen cover in front of me of me and I don’t know whether to take a nap or use it as a napkin. A moment later the same server returns with my duck dish and places it on the pillow and the pillow immediately begins to deflate letting out a gentle bursts of juniper “air” that engulf my face. Inhaling the juniper, my mouth waters and I dig into the duck. Some real thought had to go into this dish, the flavor profiles engineered into it, and the theatrics that surround it. The overall experience is stunning.

 Short Ribs

Cayenne Short Ribs with Guinness Gelée, Toasted Peanut, Peanut Puree, Broccoli Puree, Shaved Broccoli Stems, Crispy Broccoli Florets

Just when I think there are no surprises left, Achatz’s serves this piping hot short rib with a thin sheet of gelée over it. It looks like he shrink-wrapped the plate prior to sending it out to me. The gelée is suctioned to the short ribs and pureed garnish below it. Additional garnish are placed on top of the gelée providing a wonderful texture and contrast to the items pressed below. Aesthetically, this is the most profound course yet. That Achatz would think to create a thin sheet of gelée with the perfect level of bloom so that it stays intact over hot food but still melts effortlessly on the palate and then execute it so flawlessly speaks to his craftsmanship and creativity. The dish is absolutely delicious.

 Potato and Truffle

Potatoes and Truffle

This simple bite-sized item is a study in simplicity, the wax bowl seeming to me to be a bit of a novelty. Great tasting and the truffle is bold and full flavored.


Lamb Loin Three Ways

Three square pieces of lamb arrive at the table on a sizzling hot rectangular stone mounted on a custom metal frame. At one end of the stone, there’s a bunch of rosemary propped up vertically through a hole. My server lights the tips of the rosemary and they smolder for a second or two, the scent of deep toasted pine lingering over the table. I consume this dish using chopsticks, each chunk of tender sous-vide lamb going down in one bite. The toasted rosemary is a nice touch.



Anyone who serves bacon as a course unto itself is a hero in my mind. Achatz’s fresh bacon is creatively served on a wire frame and is delicious and mild.

Ice Cream

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Ice Cream

The olive oil ice cream is smooth and delicious and the pressed cookie base under the pavee is fantastic.


Chocolate and Passion Fruit Noodles

These hydrocolloid noodles represent a molecular technique that I like but feel is a bit over-done. Luckily they taste great; the chocolate is deep and slightly malted and the passion fruit a nice end-of-meal palate cleanser.


This is a long entry and one I have been meaning to post for some time. This meal was an adventure. When I started my meal without a menu my curiosity was peaked and each dish thereafter exceeded my expectations, entertained me, was innovative, delicious, and engineered on multiple sensory levels. There was more than a light dose of theater in my experience: exploding apple, puffing pillow, burning rosemary and all. Alinea is a national treasure and a place that, in my mind, defines one of the many facets of American fine dining in the new millennium. Achatz deserves three Michelin stars for taking the experience of dining to a whole new level. May he run the fastest lap yet during his time on the track.


1723 North Halsted St

Chicago, IL 60614

Baccalone: Tasty Salted Pig Parts

Posted 12 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Travel


It’s close to noon time and I am running late. A light but steady delicious San Francisco rain is drizzling as I make my way down Market Street through the center of the city. My first visit here was in 1985 and it was raining that day too and each time it rains in this city I am reminded of that first wonderful trip. We made the run from Lake Tahoe in a beat up Chevy Caprice, landed in San Francisco for a series of eating experiences and, later that night, pushed south to Santa Cruz and slept in the car near the beach stomachs full and sated. I ate my way through the city for the first time then, the experience new and electric, and I plan to do it again this time. The sweet San Francisco rain comforts me and gives me life as the Ferry Building comes into view.

Chris Cosentino and Aaron Sanchez

At present, I have less than an hour to get to Chris Cosentino’s Baccalone to try some “Tasty Salted Pig Parts”. As you know from prior blog entries, I really, really love tasty salted pig parts and I love that there’s a retro garde manger movement taking hold in America. Baccalone is a manifestation of this movement as are some of the other examples I have written about like Cochon Butcher in New Orleans and il Mondo Vecchio in Denver. John Kowalski author of the new and outstanding “The Art of Charcuterie” has given further momentum to the movement and provides one of the best explanations of the production of dry, semi-dry, and fermented sausages. That a book of this quality has just been released in 2011 is further evidence of my prediction of the expansion of the art.

As these thoughts cross my mind my mouth starts to water. I have less than an hour before I have to return to the conference I am attending so I pick up the pace while traversing The Embarcadero to the Ferry building marketplace. The Ferry Building is a destination resort for food lovers. You can always tell whether you are in a city dedicated to good food by the types of markets and foodstuffs sold and this building and its farmers market is the center of gravity in San Francisco. Although the Ferry Building is packed with world class restaurants and food boutiques, what attracts me the most is that it is home to CUESA, the “Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture” and a food with integrity philosophy that more communities should mirror.  Three days per week the building comes to life as the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a market full of certified farmers selling local farmstead products, attracts food lovers from across the city.


Inside the building, there are multiple shops and food retailers that follow a less stringent set of standards but still carry a tremendous food ethic. Baccalone is one of those shops and as I enter the building, it comes into view directly across the hall to the right of the main entrance. With a large arched storefront leading to a retail space that includes a three door curing cabinet (for those tasty pig parts), chilled case with vacuum packaged terrines, sausages, and pates, and a large display of dry cured sausages wrapped in brown paper, Baccalone has a artisan feel to it. I approach the curing cabinets and peer in. There are nearly a dozen varieties of salumi hanging at 70% humidity and several are dusted white in full bacterial bloom. I take notice of a beautiful batch of Nduja spreadable salami on display and I start to crave a taste. Another case is loaded with tasty little links of Capacollo.


To the right of the curing case there’s a large display of additional charcuterie including vacuum packed slabs of pate de Campagna and silky white chunks of Lardo. One of my favorites on display in the case is Cosentino’s Ciccioli terrine. He prepares this classic garlic and rosemary flavored terrine by braising pig parts with skin and fat and pressing them into a mold. The package on display in the store clearly shows layers of pork skin and fat bound in braised meat with natural gelatin. Next to the Ciccioli there’s a fresh Coppa di Testa head cheese and a beautiful Sanguinaccio pork blood sausage. I have to restrain myself from loading up my basket.

Retro Garde Manger

Curious about the dry cured and fermented products on display I pick out a package of Orange and Wild Fennel Salame and a Salame Pepato; dry cured salami with pepper. At the counter I also grab one of Cosentino’s famous mixed salumi cones and devour it while paying for the rest of the items I have picked out.  Time is running out now so I head for the exit smiling with delight. It was a good visit even though it was short. The staff at Baccalone was friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate. The product on display was fantastic and I plan to cut into the two Salame when I get back to my room tonight.


Mixed Saumi Cone: A daily snack!



  Orange and Wild Fennel Salame: One per package, firm, lighly sweet, mild salt and very mild orange and fennel notes.



 Salame Pepato: One per package, beautiful fermentation, great deep pork flavor with hints of pepper and spice.

Ferry Building Marketplace
Shop 21
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 433-6500

Bouchon: Thomas Keller Trifecta

Posted 02 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Full Service


Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville, CA

My three part Thomas Keller Restaurant Group adventure starts at Bouchon Bakery and Café at the Time Warner Center in New York. It’s fall and the city is heading into the holidays. After crashing at a friend’s apartment on the upper west side, a lazy morning lounging, and a quick run through the park before noon, hunger sets in along with curiosity and we head over to Bouchon for a bite.  With a schedule in place that puts me in Las Vegas in a month and Yountville, CA a month or so  after that, I am determined to visit Keller’s cafés and bakeries to get a sense of how they operate, whether they are consistent in food and service, and what the differences are in design and feel. My first stop on this mini tour is Bouchon Bakery at 10 Columbus Circle.

View of Columbus Circle from Bouchon Bakery Dining Room

I enter the lobby of the Time Warner Center and am awed by the enormous colored stars hanging from the ceiling in the expansive three-story lobby. The center is a huge building at 2.8 million square feet. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and cost approximately $1.7 billion to construct. I have always loved the neighborhood around Columbus circle and recall how excited I was when I first heard that the third and fourth floors of the Time Warner Center would house world class restaurants like Per Se, Masa, Café Gray, and (at the time) Charlie Trotter. In prior years, it was tough to fine great food this side of town and our favorite place to dine was just around the corner in at 1 Central Park West, home of restaurant Jean Georges and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  Now, with so many great restaurants this close to my favorite place to crash in the city, Time Warner Center has become one of my favorite destinations  although the energy level in the building was higher when the economy was in better shape.

Bouchon Bakery Bread, Time Warner Center

After a quick escalator ride to the third floor I head straight to a table at the café, have a seat and order a cup of coffee. My server is smiling, offers a menu, makes a few suggestions and floats away. The dining room is open to the main corridor on one side and looks out over the lobby onto Columbus Circle on the other. On the south side of the space there’s a large marble-topped bar serving as a focal point and a large communal table that seats around twenty people in the middle of the room. Although Bouchon radiates the aesthetic and style of Thomas Keller, I feel that the version of Bouchon at the Time Warner Center is something of an adaptive reuse of space that was otherwise unscheduled when the building was designed. Sitting in the dining room, it feels like I am in a lobby not a planned space. Food is expedited from a small closet of a kitchen across the hall from the dining area and I am not overstating when I say they are short of space. But the crew in the kitchen looks ultra professional and the food they produce is excellent for such a small space.

Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwich: San Marzano tomato soup with grilled fontina & gruyere cheese on pain au lait

I am with a few friends and we order a variety of items. Our two favorite are the delicate and lemon scented open faced Tartine Au Thon (tuna salad) and the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese sandwich. We finish with another cup of coffee, some outstanding macaroons and head toward the door. Although some folks think Bouchon is over rated, aside from the dining area, I love the place and find the food and service consistently good and the prices value oriented for this side of town and for the view we enjoy of Columbus Circle.


Tartine Au Thon:  Tuna salad, Nicoise olives, bibb lettuce and garlic aioli with sliced egg, radish on pain de champagne

Bouchon Bakery Display, Time Warner Center

My next stop is Bouchon at the Venetian Hotel, Resort and Casino. The restaurant is located on the 9th floor of the Venezia tower at the Venetian and is off the beaten path a bit. When I arrive Bouchon is empty but, at 6:00pm, it’s still early by Vegas standards. Rather than sit at a table, I take a seat at the fantastic hardwood and marble bar and order a beer and a half dozen oysters.  The oysters caught my eye after passing a fantastic, perfectly clean iced seafood display in the curved corner of the bar facing the entry to the restaurant.  Next, I enjoy the Poulet Roti; a roasted chicken with glazed celery root, poached apples, herb quenelles, chestnut confit and chicken jus. The chicken is moist, with crisp savory skin and correctly cooked. I like the flavor combination of the celery root and apples and think the dish comes together perfectly. Unfortunately, I forget to grab my camera and lack a photo to post here.

Bouchon Las Vegas is a grand restaurant on a large scale; perhaps too large. After a casual hour of dining I head for the door and see that the restaurant is still slow. At 7:00pm there are half a dozen tables eating and that’s about it. I wonder how the restaurant stays afloat financially. On a positive note, Bouchon feels like it was designed for this location and built with care compared to the afterthought that Bouchon Bakery in New York seems to be. Although hidden away on the 9th floor in a bad location, Bouchon is worth the effort and the food is excellent. Service is great although a bit more casual than in New York in a Vegas sort of way.  


Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville, CA

My trip to Yountville includes seven other chef friends who I assemble with from time to time. Our first meal is at Bouchon and we will follow with dinner at Ad Hoc later in the evening. Although we had reservations for Per Se, we decided to forgo the cost and invest our resources on some fantastic wines and a home cooked meal.

At Bouchon we drag two of the marble top tables together and order a bottle of chilled white wine.  Its 2:30PM and the restaurant is packed but the patio is empty. Bouchon Yountville is located in a historic looking brick building with a bright red awning running along the street side of the restaurant. Just as the tiny Bouchon Bakery in New York and massive Bouchon in Las Vegas fit their locations, Bouchon Yountville fits its setting perfectly and is probably as close to the ideal Keller had in mind when he created his version of such a fine French bistro. We settle in and order a few appetizers.

Bouchon Restaurant Yountville, CA Frog Legs Special

First up is an order of frog’s legs which are featured as a special. The frog’s legs come out piping hot and are tasty but a bit too delicate. I was expecting something with deeper flavor and this dish came up a bit short. However, the Brandade beignets are fantastic and I have to order two more portions to satisfy the table. We also share a rillettes of salmon, another standard menu item, and it is fantastic too. Of all the items we enjoy the side plate of pickled vegetables is the best. They are perfectly blanched, lightly pickled and beautifully arranged on a plate. As I head for the door Chef Keller is just leaving too and we chat for a few minutes. He is surprised that we are there and we let him know that we are on an informal visit, renting a house up in Glen Ellen for a quiet weekend among friends. He smiles and heads on his way and we head over to the bakery to try things out.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue: Cod brandade with tomato confit and fried sage

Rillettes au Deux Saumons: Fresh and Smoke Salmon rillettes with toasted croutons.

My Favorite Bouchon Side Salad

Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA

The bakery is in a pastel green stucco building just across the patio from Bouchon itself. My favorite aspect of the bakery is how perfectly executed all the items are. Each item on display is clean, consistent, and outstanding in quality. This was the case at the bakery in New York as well. The display case there was just as stunning and equally consistent. Again, I order a mixed bag of pastel colored macaroons and enjoy them immensely.

Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA, Pastry Display

It is clear to me that Bouchon operates on an entirely different plane than Per Se and French Laundry. However, my experience at Bouchon, whether in New York, Las Vegas,  or Yountville was fairly consistent and the food on the standard menu was excellent. Some of the specials we ordered came up short but the pastry we enjoyed was outstanding and the service consistently good. For Keller, having a mid-scale restaurant concept must be a good thing.  Bouchon helps balance Keller’s restaurant portfolio with an option that is less subject to economic cycles compared to his higher end 3 Michelin star properties. I suspect that Keller will continue to expand Bouchon and know that his next Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center will be a huge success.  The more successful Bouchon is the more likely Keller will be able balance his portfolio and finances and sustain Per Se and French Laundry. With this in mind, I remain a fan of Bouchon and a huge fan of Bouchon Bakery.

 Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA


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Bouchon Bakery