n. pl. things that interest Stewart P. Slocum

Posts Tagged ‘Alinea’

Cutting Edge Mixology Techniques | Tony Conigliaro | Pioneers in Mixology | Part Three

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on April 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

The relaxed Zen attitude suddenly shifted to a much more zestful spirit for the Mixologists in attendance. This session promised to make accessible the leading-edge techniques that Tony, who has a reputation for turning the cocktailery world on its head, is exploring.

With his jovial British air, he introduced the methods he’d be covering: Aromas,
Rota Evaporation, Why Ingredients Go Together and The Vintage Manhattan, whatever that might be!

1/ Aromas
Parallel to the culinary world, aroma makes up 80% of the flavor in beverages. In everyday bar use, you experience this aroma emphasis via zest garnish, vermouth misting and such flairs. Tony takes a twofold approach to pushing the envelope of aroma: 1/ referencing the world of alchemists and perfumery as inspiration, and 2/ applying science to crafting aromas in cocktails – specifically using herbs, which can become liquid ingredients when their essences are absorbed in alcohols, waters and oils.

As an extreme example, Tony held up a simple egg, the froth of which is used in many classic cocktails like the Peruvian Pisco Sour. The shell is semi-permeable. This got Tony to thinking about how to infuse these froths with flavor before even cracking and whipping the egg. After experimentation, he landed on a process of MacGyver-ian straightforwardness. Place a few drops of herb essence on the cardboard container of your eggs, store in airtight Tupperware refrigerated over night. Suddenly, he presented Calvados (an apple Brandy from Northern France), sour mix, added lemon and an egg-froth with a distinct hay flavor. He had infused the egg froth with an essence of cut grass. Even knowing what was coming, the taste turned out to be an incredibly surprising and pleasant experience.

From the perfumery world, he explained that in cocktails there are also Top, Middle and Base notes, which is why both perfumes and cocktail aromas can “unfold.” These note demarcations come from molecule size – citrus lighter, wood notes heavier. This thinking inspired an infamous cocktail Tony created, the Chanel No. 5.

While the name of the cocktail is no longer in existence (thanks to a call from the attorneys at a certain renowned fashion house), you can still make a wonderful Rose Champagne cocktail, a rose cocktail by another name.

Add a few drops of Rose essence (in essential oil, which can be broken down with a strong neutral spirit, like Everclear) to a sugar cube and drop into a glass of champagne. The champagne is filled with carbon dioxide, the sugar (which has been infused with Rose essence) activates the carbon dioxide, pushing the Rose flavor through the cocktail. It’s a drink that literally blooms Rose flavor as one imbibes.

Where oils do not mix very well with water, there are Hydrosols, water-based essences, made by distilling the essential oil through a still and suspending in water to be used in aroma exploration.  So see, not complex at all.

2/ Rota Evaporation
Honestly, it looks like something from Doctor Frankenstein’s lab and is a contraption that could set you back $6000 – $7000, but it has been used to amazing effect in the culinary world at places like Alinea in Chicago and both El Celler de Can Roca and el Bulli in Spain. With Tony, the beverage world is not far behind.

Rota Vap Rotary Evaporator Tony Conigliaro

RotaVap | Under (reduced) Pressure

What a Rota Evaporator does is distill liquid under a vacuum, which lowers the boiling point, allowing ingredients to evaporate at lower temperatures. This maintains the integrity of the initial liquid – no denigration. Got it? Well, what does all that mean?

Things like horseradish vodka can be whipped up for spectacular Bloody Marys.

With a Rota Evaporator, the distillation process can make straight distillations, hydrosols (remember those?), alcohols, salts, separations and reductions. It’s quite a toy for the intellectual mixologist, even pushing the boundaries into non-food distillates.

Gewürztraminer white wine is most renowned for its flinty notes. With a Rota Evaporator, one could literally distill the essence of this wine varietal into myriad cocktails, using just flint from the region. Why stop there? Next up, a syrup of wine barrel to add Chardonnay woody notes to cocktails.

3/ Why Ingredients Go Together

Beefeater’s Master Distiller knows when to cut the heads and tails (a decision that separates the quality spirit from the beginning & end of the distillation process, which contain contaminants and unappealing flavors) just by the smell of the distillery … a licorice scent in the evening.

Most likely for you and me, we would need help mastering pairing flavors at the level Tony is discussing. These guys use gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to measure chemicals and taste. They then think about overlapping chemicals in flavors, bridging flavors, tastes that we are hardwired to enjoy (sweet) or not (bitter). The takeaway is that there is an entire science behind this for those who want to dig deeper:

Bernard Lahousse | Food Pairing website with Flavor Trees/Wheels
Hervé This | Molecular Gastronomist blog, which is in French so fire up Google translate

Tony encouraged all to use instinct enhanced by science.  Check out this Flavor Wheel for pairing Whisky.

4/ The Vintage Manhattan

What are they? Simply put, aged cocktails. Unfortunately due to many bad, bad factors (oxidation, blending, wood, “stretching”), it’s not as simple as applying the wine vintage process to cocktails. Tony has been experimenting with perfecting a bottled version of The Manhattan for years, and he opens a bottle every few months for patrons at his lounge, 69 Colebrooke Row. He’s gotten all scientific on it using the GC-MS (remember?) to measure the complexity of The Manhattan vintages over time. The idea is to have craft cocktails that can last a week or a week and a half once opened. Even more, it’s to highlight the complexity that goes into the art of the cocktail and create a beautiful product.

Is it necessary? I’m not sure. Most likely the only places that would ever serve vintage cocktails, would have a well-trained bartender who could mix one helluva Manhattan him-or-herself.

For a second I thought, this is the epitome of Tony. If he were a cocktail, he’d be a Vintage Manhattan. Of course the next thing out of his mouth was that while pursuit of the aged cocktail process had been a passion of his dating back to at least 2004, he’s already on to cooking Manhattans Sous Vide and has recently been playing with Sous Vide Negronis.

Yes, all of the Mixologists in the room got a handful of cutting-edge techniques to play with as soon as we find our local (or Amazon-shipped) hydrosols and essential oils, but what Tony really challenged us about was to keep taking from pure science and turning it into applied science, noting that flavor and consistency are as much part of the cocktail world, as the culinary.

And with that, I’m closing up my notebook, now much filled with pure science, & heading off for a Negroni, one of the miracles of applied science.

Pioneers in Mixology

A view from my seat at Pioneers in Mixology

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Grant Achatz Makes the Ultimate Burger | And other Achatz Miracles

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on March 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Chef Achatz, deserved 2010 James Beard Outstanding Chef winner and one of the most innovative patriots in America, offers up a mouthwatering burger, inspired by the combo of the best elements of a burger with the essence of charcuterie, in the upcoming guy gourmet feature:

Grant Achatz Makes the Ultimate Burger | Guy Gourmet | MensHealth.com.

Later this month, he launches Next in Chicago, with a Paris 1906 menu based on Escoffier’s book.  It’s available for only 12 weeks, as the resto completely changes theme quarterly.  Early summer brings Thai.  Many impressive meals ahead at this place.

Captivating my attention more, next door Achatz is opening Aviary, which applies the artful modernist passion steeped in Culinary (or in this case Mixology) tradition that Grant mastered at Alinea, and pours it over ice.  It’s a cocktail haunt that, while respecting the tradition of crafted cocktails, pulls Mixology out of the pre-prohibition lore it has been mired in for a decade.  Get ready to embrace the idea of innovation in Mixology not served by a retro-speakeasy hipster bartender.  Myself? I’m looking forward to my first sparkling Negroni, G&T with “bubble tea” cucumber pearls, and a Manhattan in the rocks vs. on them.

On the marketing front, Grant has a story to tell.  If you haven’t heard, just Google him.  You’ll see him on Oprah & profiled in the New Yorker (2008).  Finally, there’s an autobiography coming out this month, of which I know little but you may want to do some poking around if you’re into that kind of thing.  What impresses me is that Next needs no marketing, it will win.  It is, to be fair, the biggest, most important, most anticipated restaurant opening Chicago has ever had.

Aviary, on the other hand, as a paradigm shifting concept, in an arena where Achatz doesn’t already have a wealth of cred, is a little trickier.  What to do?  Embrace the new.  Go viral.  Check out the Aviary You Tube channel & you will get as excited about this boite that will forever change gears on the Mixology front, as I am.

I’m starting to sound like a fan boy, but this guy truly interests me & makes me proud.  One last aside, for his Alinea cookbook deal, instead of taking the typical advance & having a “ghost” produce a pretty product, he poured heart, soul & intellect into it and built funding into the publishing contract for a website that enables the book to continue to evolve, as he does.

Next time we’re in Chicago together, Alinea, Next & Aviary.  In the meantime, I’m ready for one helluva burger.

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