The French Laundry…I’m no food writer nor do I really consider myself a blogger. So I’ll just go straight to the point. Freaking go there. Eat there and marvel at the fact that by being there, you get to experience part of history. You are in the restaurant that molded and graduated some of the finest chefs in North America. Take for example Grant Achatz and Cory Lee, I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at both their restaurants, and both left me slack-jawed with eyes wide open. Their food punches you in the face with so much deliciousness and wonderfully progressive food it leaves you questioning what the hell you’ve been doing with your life. The French Laundry however, does not punch you, but rather gently lays a hand on your shoulder, looks you in the eye and advises you on why you should still question what the hell you’ve been doing with your life. “Dear cook, this is how hard we’ve been working to be perfect. You should do the same”.
And I go back to my sticky note filled French Laundry cookbook, reading the words Thomas Keller wrote on the front page 5 years ago when he signed it… It’s all about Finesse.
Some of the dishes I had that night.
Smoked Salmon and creme fraiche cornets
Oysters and Pearls
French Laundry garden radishes, and green pea custard
Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Pekin Duck (The best duck I have ever had)
What if you could make a gel that remained solid at higher heat. By high heat I mean between the range of 50 – 70 degrees Celsius. About the temperatures you would serve hot soup.
We used to have a gum blend that was meant to replace gelatin. We coded it as blend 6455. I then found this type of kappa that was strangely elastic. I mixed that kappa with 6455 and the result was the FlexiGel blend. The great thing about this gel is that it seems fairly multi-purpose and forms quite strong gels.
Here are the coconut gels (Those white, tofu-like cubes) from yesterday in a lobster bisque As you can see from the thermometer, the temperature of the bisque is at 58 Celsius but the gels remain solid and show no signs of melting. Though, there is a negative effect of high heat gels, and that is lower flavour release.
Yes, I did some amateur editing to brighten the image of the thermometer.
Rules of thumb with Gels: The stronger the gel, the lower the flavour release. This is because the gel system holds on to the flavour compounds more. Loose liquid (ie soups and juices) will always have stronger, more instant flavour release. Also, the higher the heat stability of the gel, again the lower the flavour release. This is because the gel system does not melt on your palate. One reason why I still like using gelatin is because its melting point is very low and dissolves on the palate.
Food for thought: One way gelling is being used by chefs is by changing the flavour release from powerful and instant, to subtle but lingering. By holding the flavour as a gel, you are able to maintain that flavour throughout the entire bite. For example if you have an amuse on a spoon that had a liquod component, a piece of protein like prawn, and garnishes, what you would experience is first the intense flavour of the liquod component, and then gradually the prawn flavour comes out as you chew on it. Flavours of the garnish burst out as you bite on it. Usually, the flavour from the liquid component will only be perceived at the beginning of the bite. But by turning it into a gel or thickening it, you can allow that flavour to linger a little bit longer.
A quick nod to The Grove for the inspiration for this dish. I’ve been staging there on Saturdays recently. One day I brought some centrifuged pea juice to the restaurant and chef Ben Heaton said it would go really well with raw shrimps. So I decided to do exactly that.
There really is just something special about centrifuged juices. The intensity of flavours and cleanliness of textures are unmatched. Even if the initial ingredient was not at it’s peak, the juices that come out are still incredibly sweet (But of course, you should not use that as an excuse).
There are 2 variations. One with the pea “butter” which I first heard of from the book Modernist cuisine. It is essentially the very tiny amount of fat from peas. The 2nd variation is with the pea juice. I personally prefer the juice variation because of how clean and refreshing the juice is. It’s just a better fit with the raw seafood.
Raw shrimp, scallop, sea urchin – ginger, salmon roe, coconut gel, fennel
Variation 1. The green dollops are the pea butters.
Variation 2. Instead of pea butter I just used the blanched peas for texture. Also, notice how vibrant the colour of the pea juice is.