When head chef Maxime Bilet left the Modernist Cuisine Cooking Lab in Washington after spending 4 ½ years working on 3122 pages, 1927 recipes and over 230,000 photos for the lab’s James Beard Award-winning books, he decided to throw his own good-bye party. Instead of sitting down to enjoy the meal himself, he tried his best to employ every culinary toy available in his seventeen course modernist feast.
Amie Watson, a Canadian food writer, spent a week at the lab and here recaps the first half of the meal:
Bread and Butter
Who knew peas had fat? Spun at 3,500 times the force of gravity in a centrifuge, the lab rips peas apart into three distinct layers of juice, fat, and starch and serves the fat as butter piped onto dehydrated crackers.
Ultrasonic bath, aerated beef mousseline “We cook the fries sous vide first in a salt brine at 88 degrees Celcius,” explains Bilet. “Then we ultrasonic bath them for 45 minutes on each side. That creates miniscule ruptures on the fries. Then you double deep-fry – low temperature fry to set the starch, high temperature fry to crisp it. The starch shoots out, so the fries look like a hedgehog, but the inside is creamy. And it stays crispy because of the starch. We’ve done trials with more starch and they don’t even look like fries anymore. They look like nuggets of crispy joy.”
Constructed savory cream Served in a Champagne flute, this liquid mozzarella emulsion is actually dairy-free. Using an immersion homogenizer there’s little chance of the oil-based emulsion breaking. To serve, Bilet circulated a bowl of basil leaves and instructed diners to smell then sip.
Oysters and Roses
Cryo-shucked oysters, sunchoke oyster cream, pickled rose There’s an “easy” way to shuck oysters: In small batches, carefully place them in liquid nitrogen for fifteen seconds, then remove to a tray for thirty minutes. Keep flat so the juices don’t spill. After thirty minutes they will have opened slightly at the hinge. Pull the top shell off and detach from the bottom shell as per usual. Slurp, or serve as the lab did with sunchoke oyster cream sauce and pickled rose petals.
Aerated scrambled eggs, lobster mushroom marmalade Aerating the scrambled egg filling is relatively easy compared to time-consuming task of carefully cutting the eggshells. Extra ultrasonic (home)fries made for a complete breakfast when dipped in the savoury-sweet foam.
Centrifuged peas, pickled Meyer lemon, sheep’s milk ricotta Fresh, seasonal shelling peas, translucent radish slices, chanterelle mushrooms, pea tendrils, corn, sweet pink beets, pickled lemon and pea butter on a bed of ricotta all drizzled with centrifuged pea juice was the most refreshing, texturally contrasting, and satisfying course of the night.
Caramelized Carrot Soup
Pressure caramelization, vacuum compression, young coconut. The incredible result of pressure-cooking carrots is caramelized carrots without added sugar or butter. Baking soda speeds the reaction by producing an alkaline pH. Here the rich, sweet, puréed broth of the pressure cooked root vegetable pairs with Indian seasonings of deep-fried curry leaves, coconut foam and a sprinkle of garam masala.
Apple Snow Ball
Vacuum-aerated sorbet, frozen fluid-gel powder Somewhere between a thick gel and a fluid liquid, fluid gels are meant to be spreadable but not stiff. Here Bilet dehydrates an apple gel and crushes it to a snow-like powder to coat this siphon-extruded apple sorbet.