Adventures in Spain, part 2.

6 Jul

Time really flies when you have fun, huh? Another great week has passed at Alicia and it’s hard to believe that I have already spent 4 weeks here in Spain. Not many weeks left… Since the book on texturizers is almost entirely done, I have moved on to replicate recipes from various famous chefs. These recipes will be featured in the book under the section of the different texturizers. The recipes will be provided as examples of how the texturizers can be used in the professional kitchen. Making these recipes is incredibly inspiring to me, because I get to indulge in the work of some of the world’s best chefs. Below is a small update that features photos and small descriptions of my latest work. ENJOY!

On behalf of the large Korean enterprise Sempio, three fantastic chefs are conducting research on Spanish and Korean food in Alicia. The main goal of the “Jang Project,” as the project is called, is to research Spanish people’s taste for Jang – fermented soybeans in different forms (and Korea’s “fundamental ingredient”). Least said, I am lucky work in the same place as these incredibly talented people. For a brief moment every day, the people in Alicia act as research subjects for the project, tasting and commenting on the food that the cooks produce. This picture is from Thursday’s tasting session. Our task? To taste delicious Spanish classics with a Korean twist. From left to right: Hyun-ju, Yunju, Choi (Korea), me, Gashaw (U.S).

For the past few days I have been desperately trying to make carrot meringues (a foam) by simply whisking air into carrot juice with egg white powder. Although the process sounds really simple, I have failed miserably, no matter how high the concentration of the egg white powder, which is the foaming agent. These pictures really capture how tedious this process was at some points. Or, rather, how tedious it was until I found the carrot juicer and did not have to repeat the process of blanching, pureeing and straining these orange monsters. Juicer or no juicer, the recipe did not work. My brilliant supervisor thinks it is because the fibers in the carrot juice interfere with the foaming process. On Monday we will see if the hypothesis holds true – I will try to make merengues with purified granny smith apple juice.

A beautiful way of obtaining pure, transparent granny smith juice. This was prepared as a part of the experiment that is yet to be conducted on Monday. The process is as fascinating as it is simple. Remove the hearts of the apples, cut into quarts and put into a bath of water and ascorbic acid to prevent the apples from oxidizing (3 g acid per liter of water). Juice the apples into transparent containers of medium size. Put in the freezer at minus eighteen for 30 mins. The fibers will form a thick layer on top of the liquid you want, and once the working solution enters the freezer, these fibers will freeze and “coagulate,” making it super easy for you to obtain the beautifully transparent granny smith liquid. Tomato is the only other fruit this process can be used for. Too bad the wonderful liquid will become meringues (HOPEFULLY) on Monday. RIP.

Yet another experiment with methylcellulose, my favorite gelling agent. While methylcelllose is used in a variety of ways, including as a glue, as a gelling agent, and as a thickener, methylcellulose works equally well as a foaming agent. In this picture, you can see the beauty of its properties. On Wednesday, I made hot whipped cream foam by combining methylcellulose, coffee, sugar and whipped cream. This mixture was placed in the freezer to ensure proper hydration, and was then introduced into a siphon charged with a nitrogenous gas. The result was stunning. Out came a beautiful, creamy coffee-tasting mixture with a texture similar to that of whipped cream from a tube. Despite the similarities, however, this one was clearly different. Just like in the hot cream flan that we made earlier, the whipped cream was hot – a sensation that totally messes with your conception of whipped cream. My co-worker Angel sprayed the hot cream atop a glass of milk, added some sugar and cinnamon, and blow-torched the shit out of the surface. Check it out!

“Air” – the epitome of modern high-end gastronomy. The texture is beautiful, the process simple. This “milk air” was made by introducing air to a solution of milk and sucroester, a foaming agent (called the “xanthan gum of foams,” as it works under not-so-favorable conditions, such as acids, alcohols etc.) After many trials with cold milk, we decided to heat the milk to 50 degrees before foaming with the hand blender. For some reason, this process worked a lot better, leaving us with a light “air” that can be served as it is or frozen. To me, the frozen air provides the most exciting sensation. As it enters your mouth, the air disappears, bursts, leaving you with a clear sense of its flavor.

They make look pretty, but the flavor of these Gan Jang (soy sauce) merengues was so concentrated and salty that the flavor of a nanometer-sized bite would stick with you for hours. Even though the taste left much to be desired, this process provides an interesting take on texturized soy sauce. According to my supervisor, the minerals and chemical compounds in soy sauce makes it ideal for foaming with egg white powder. I wouldn’t suggest anything else; after 10 minutes of whipping, the soy sauce (with the dissolved egg white powder, 5%) became a merengue. Crazy times!

The days go by so fast. Here are some pictures from a “regular” day at Alicia. Top left: At 1:30 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, all the interns from the two departments go and eat lunch in the dining hall nearby. It’s a short walk, but the beautiful landscape is always refreshing (Bottom left). Top right: Me, Gashaw and Yunju making a recipe – I can’t recall which. The picture really speaks to one of the best things about Alicia: people are always happy and are always willing to help out and engage in different projects, this picture being an example. Bottom right: Today (Friday), Josep Roca, one of the three brothers behind the three-star restaurant “el cellar de can roca” in Girona (one of the world’s best), came to Alicia to chat with the senior staff and the interns. Visits by michelin-starred, world-class chefs are commonplace at Alicia. In the friendly Alicia environment, however,rather superficial measurements such as number of stars doesn’t matter – in Alicia, there is a general sense that we are all on the same level. A love for food is the norm, unfettered creativity is the proof.

As the texturizer book is soon complete, I am moving on to test some recipes by famous chefs. Today I worked on a least said fabulous recipe – a recipe that really captures the soul of modernist cuisine. Just like much of modernist cuisine, this dish reinvents a classic and takes it to a new level at which the texture and flavor sensations are unprecedented. In this case, the classic is penne with tomato sauce – an Italian all-time favorite. Above you can see the “pasta,” which is made from purified tomato water (the transparent, round texture. The gelling agent is the fast-setting Kappa carrageenan). This sweet yet tangy penne-like concoction is served with a fresh tomato puree, almonds and rosemary, and is sprinkled with Himalayan salt and grey cracked pepper. If the dish seems complex in and of itself, it might come as a surprise that the creation only plays a small role in much larger, much more complex, dish, which features monkfish and a vast array of other ingredients.

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One Response to “Adventures in Spain, part 2.”

  1. Lotten July 7, 2012 at 11:50 AM #

    Fantastiskt, Vayu! Tänk om jag kunde laga en bråkdel av det du kan, då skulle jag känna mig som världens bästa kock … /Lotten

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