Monday, July 21, 2008

Second Annual Chef Summit at the Culinary Vegetable Institute Part One

I was very lucky to be invited to attend...

the Second Annual Chef Summit, the brainchild of “Farmer” Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden, held at the Culinary Vegetable Institute last Friday, July 18th. It had been many months since I was at the CVI (or, for that matter, had visited the farm). To quote Lee, “This is an experience that brings the missions of The Chef’s Garden and The Culinary Vegetable Institute to life.” I had an absolutely fabulous time and learned a great deal. Also, I got a big heartwarming bear hug from Lee. Many of the chefs took tours in the morning, which I skipped. Not only have I toured the farm several times, but it’s almost an hour and a half drive and it’s such a luxury to sip coffee and read the morning news at leisure. I arrived just in time to enjoy lunch provided by the CVI (good timing, eh?), after which the real fun began.

Chefs get busy inside the CVI preparing for demonstrations.
More activity, and the CVI team preparing lunch.

First, Lee took the stage to give some words of welcome and talk about Veggie U, a program for 4th grade class rooms that’s in 1400 schools across the country. (I’ll write a little more about this program in another post). He then talked about the first summit. Having seen many talented chefs across the country doing really cutting edge work, he decided to bring as many as he could together for a summit where these innovators could demonstrate their work and inspire others. The summit dovetails with a benefit for the CVI and Veggie U, held the following day.

Farmer Lee Jones addresses the attendees.

The summit featured demonstrations by Will Goldfarb (a pasty chef with credentials that would humble anyone in the culinary arts), Lee Anne Wong (a Bravo TV producer and personality and chef at the French Culinary Institute), Christopher Lee (a culinary power who now runs Gilt Restaurant in the New York Palace Hotel), Marcel Vigneron (a young culinary nomad whose globetrotting experiences include some tutelage at El Taller under Ferran Adria and a second place finish in season two of Bravo’s Top Chef), Paul de Favero (a La Varenne graduate, now Executive Chef of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill), Celina Tio (former chef of The American Restaurant, now building her own place) and Giuseppe Tentori (former Chef de Cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s, now Executive Chef at Boka). In attendance were many culinary personalities and industry types, including Bruce Seidel a producer for the Food Network and famed chef Bobby Waggoner who was busy shooting pictures.

Will Goldfarb demonstrated first with a little help from his daughter, Lulu, and a local culinary student. He dismisses the “false idea that technology and natural cooking and slow foods don’t go together.” He made a pomegranate-beet mousse with xanthan gum (a natural byproduct of fermentation of glucous by a bacteria found in cabbage). The xanthan gum eliminates the needs for egg white and thereby considerably lightens the end product. He also used Versawhip, a soy-based whipping agent. When properly mixed with an immersion blender, he passed the mixture through a sieve and the whipped it in a Hobart mixer. He thickened some apricot kernel oil with tapioca maltodextrin in a one to one ratio by weight to achieve a powder used to perfume the final assemblage. He also made a coulis consistency sauce with orange juice, sambuca and ultratex, a version of tapioca starch. To complete the dish he had some hazelnut ice cream made with a gelato base and garnished the ensemble with baby fava bean leaves, crystal lettuce and micro yarrow. He concluded by putting all of this into a freeze-stable bag as an example of a “to-go” dessert. Funky. Tons of great info on the use of these products, which he sells through his company Willpowder.
Will Goldfarb and assistants.

Will with the dessert in "take-out" form.

Next to take the stage was Christopher Lee with his sous chef, Justin. Together they demonstrated their spring radish salad from the menu at Gilt. Chris Lee brought a very down to earth sensibility to the stage, claiming to prefer traditional methods while allowing his younger, more adventerous chefs to bring molecular gastronomy to the menu. The salad featured radishes pickled, blanched and raw. As accompaniments, they made a crumble out of sesame seeds and almond flour, a greek yogurt mousse (mixed with milk and lime juice) using a nitrous oxide canister, and, finally, a cold gelee "noodle" out of white soy and yuzu using agar agar and locust bean gum. The locut bean gum gives the noodle it's flexibility. The agar agar alone would make it too brittle they said. The final item for the dish was a cucumber-shiso sorbet, which they had made ahead of time.

Chris and Justin on stage.

Justin injects the mixture into tubing and sets the noodle by diping the tubing into an ice bath. He then extracts the noodle by using an empty syringe to push it out with air. The finish plate. Looks great!

The rest of the day will appear in parts (in posts) to follow.