Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sous-Videry with Thomas Keller

Call us food-nerds if you will, but it doesn't change the fact that we culinary students are a little different from the general population.

For example, most CIA'ers are looking forward to this weekend's Bocuse d'Or US competition far more rabidly than the Superbowl. True, it is the culinary equivalent of the Olympics, but the Superbowl?!?! Most classmates didn't even realize it's this Sunday. How sad. Although I'm more sad that the Steelers didn't make it this year.

Speaking of rabid food fanatics, when a culinary celebrity comes to speak at our school, it's generally a pretty big deal. Like when Ferran Adria came to talk and do a demo last year. The school went ballistic, flying him in on a helicopter, decking out the gym with a thousand seats for his talk.

So when Thomas Keller (Per Se, The French Laundry) arrived today - he'll be here through the weekend for the Bocuse d'Or - to talk about and demo sous-vide cookery, excitement hung in the air, thick as one of Chef Adria's foams.

The demo was at 1:30, right after Meds. I ran to get in line and ended up being one of the last ten to get in.

I've never been very good at recalling exactly what people say, so I won't try to recreate his talk here. I can say that he used "per se" exactly once in a sentence not in reference to his NYC restaurant. Fascinating. And he shook my hand - twice. While everyone settled into their seats, he strode up to the last row of seats and sat two chairs down from me. We talked about artisan producers and finding the balance between going mainstream so everyone can try your products, or keeping a very small scale and making people work to find your products. This was in reference to cheesemakers Soyoung Scanlan of Andante Dairy and Laura Chenel.

Sous-vide means under pressure. Foods are vacuum-packed in plastic bags, then cooked in a hot water bath set to a precise temperature. Which means a hunk of meat can be cooked to 141 degrees - perfect medium-rare straight through and not a degree over. All that's needed is a quick sear just to give the outside color. Just so you know, sous-vide meat looks really creepy when it hasn't been seared - all pink and raw and so wrong looking because it's obviously not raw.

The subject of Keller's sous-vide demo was a beautiful loin of Elysian Fields Farm lamb, plated with some king trumpets, glazed pearl onions, braised fennel and lamb sauce.

I pitied that little sheep's loin because the plate just languished there and no one ate it - and it looked so tasty.

We also got to fondle some cryovaced pineapple and other vegetables. Vacuum-packing collapses all the cells in plant matter, rendering it pliable and dense. Think flexible watermelon. Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to try it.

Here are some photos:

(Per Se sous chef David making lamb sauce)

As for Meds class, we're done with Spain. How did that happen? We are already halfway through this class.

Today and yesterday were both great days, especially today. We had our demo plate up right on time for Chef E to taste. But she didn't. She simply looked at it, smiled, and said that it looked gorgeous and we should try it. We would know if it wasn't right, she said, and so she trusted that it was perfect.


  1. Love your last sentence. What a wonderful feeling that must have been! LPK

  2. My goodness. I crave that plate of lamb. What are king trumpets? Crumpets with crowns?
    I really like your blog. Nicely done.
    Enjoy your "studies".
    Tania, Kirkland, WA