Starchefs ICC 2009 Day Three – An Overview

Following a lovely and late dinner at Gramercy Tavern, it wasn't any easier to get out of bed for the 9AM start of Day Three, the finale of this year's Congress, especially as my able assistant and note taker extraordinaire, my son L.J., would not be with me as he had to return to college. Nevertheless, I was determined to plod on and once there it was clear that as tired as I was and as tiring as the day would be, it would also, once again, be very exciting and full of incredible people and demonstrations.

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I was tempted to come late, but with Daniel Humm doing a workshop on cooking sous vide, that was not a viable idea. Humm's session explored uses of sous vide beyond proteins. He prepared a Hollandaise Sauce  and sent samples around the audience. The sauce was bright, vibrant and quite delicious. He finished his presentation with a video showing sous vide techniques used in his kitchen at Eleven Madison Park. The video featured the preparation of an intricate and beautiful dish of sea bass with zucchini scales that  reminded me of Paul Bocuse's famous and delicious Rouget Barbet en Écailles de Pommes de Terre Croustillantes.

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While I very much wished to attend Chef Yoshihiro Murata's Lessons From a Kaiseki King or Marcus Samuelsson's Anatomy of a Fish demos, I was even more curious about a Business panel that included Chefs Norman van Aken, Akhtar Nawab, Joe Isidori, Josh DeChellis and Paul Liebrandt and moderated by Antoinette Bruno, entitled "When to Walk Away From a Deal." This fascinating and enlightening discussion explored the experiences of each of the panelists, who have been in and out of a variety of deals over their careers in an effort to find pearls that might help other chefs of lesser experience as they begin to explore their own deals. One consensus opinion was that it is vitally important to know and have a good relationship with one's prospective business partners. Examples of both good and bad experiences were cited. Josh deChellis offered his experience at the ill-fated Barfry, as a positive experience in that because of their good relationship, he and his partners were able to cut their losses and move on to   better and more successful ventures.

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The first presentation of the day on the main stage belonged to one of my culinary idols, the father of modern Spanish gastronomy, Juan Mari Arzak. Arzak opened speaking about the history of his restaurant as well as the passage of the mantel to his daughter Elena. Following that, Arzak's assistant Igor Zalakain, prepared a number of dishes featuring techniques from the vast Arzak arsenal.

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Charles Phan of San Francisco's seminal Slanted Door restaurant demonstrated his attempt at "Putting Vietnamese Street Food on the American Map."

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After lunch, the focus shifted back to Spain and one of the world's greated pastry masters, Paco Torreblanca from Alicante. Torreblanca demonstrated a number of his techniques including a more detailed approach to the "oyster" he showed in his Monday workshop.Particularly beautiful to watch was his deft technique used in creating "flowers" from white chocolate. There had been rumors of a very unusual and special presentation on the part of the ever-surprising and playful Torreblanca, however, he only offered a brief verbal description of a dessert utilizing marijuana smoke as an essential element.

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Sean Brock did a full demonstration of his Shrimp and Grits, crafting a dish as beautiful as it was delicious and as innovative as it was traditional. Brock highlighted artisanal heirloom ingredients while also using cutting edge techniques like liquid nitrogen and centrifugation, never losing site of the primacy of flavor and imploring his audience to continue to innovate while also honoring the nation's traditional foodstuffs.

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In demonstrating his dish, Lavender Lamb Loin with Toasted Almond Espuma and Chocolate-Red Wine Sauce, Rick Tramonto of Chicago's Tru provided an insight into his very personal approach to American cuisine based upon his upbringing and 31 years of culinary experience.

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The Congress finished with an impressive demonstration by French Culinary Institute Professors Dave Arnold and Nils Noren. With Arnold doing most of the narrating and Noren much of the food preparation with occasional turnabouts, the duo demonstrated their technique for  "Wood-Grained Fish", a dish based upon the Japanese metal working technique of Mokume-Gane using the impressive Hobart 3000 slicer. They moved on to an eagerly awaited demonstration of the Japanese technique of quick killing, tissue integrity preserving, Ike Jime using live, but anesthetized black sea bass. The fish had been anesthetized with a clove oil derivative from New Zealand called Aqui-S fish anestheticbefore being efficiently dispatched by Chef Arnold. Along with their other preparations, the sea bass was left for the audience at the end of the presentation. The flesh was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The raw fish was, in fact, crunchy! The preparation, finished by StarChefs chef Asbel Reyes was simply marvelous. But Arnold and Noren were not finished. They also prepared a dish using the intervertabral disk jelly from a tuna. This was also a revelation with a fresh clean, ocean taste and texture. The culmination of the demonstration and of the entire Congress was a massive group Skoal with a specially flavored Aquavit.

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As always the Congress ended with the Rising Stars Review held this year at Asiate in The Mandarin Oriental. This year's honorees included :

The 2009 Starchefs ICC was another success incorporating education, networking and plenty of great food and drink to produce another superbly memorable experience.

Please returnto the blog as I provide more detailed recaps and plenty more photos over the coming months.


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