The morning of the second day of Starchefs 2009 was spent in small workshops featuring the Spanish pastry master, Paco Torreblanca and southern farm-meets-avant-garde chef Sean Brock, both of whom later did full-scale presentations on the main stage. I will cover their workshops when I get to their demos. The first demonstration of the day on the main stage featured three of New York City's, the countries and yes, the world's most top creative pastry chefs, Johnny Iuzzini, Sam Mason and Alex Stupak.
The original format of the pastry demonstration was to be "Three Chefs and a Dessert" – an onstage collaboration between all three in the production of a single dessert, but as Johnny Iuzzini said, "when you have three chiefs and no Indians, things don't always work out." As a result, they decided that it would be better if they did three separate desserts built around a theme. Since the theme of the Congress was "What is American Food", they determined to create their own takes on American classics. Iuzzini created his version of "Dirt Cake," Stupak did "Apple Pie" and Mason, "Jello Shots."
Johnny Iuzzini, the Pastry Chef at the NY Times four star restaurant, Jean-Georges, put his own spin the dirt cake by layering a chocolate mousse with an super light, creamy chocolate-rum gel, cacao nibs and chocolate noodle worms made using a peristaltic pump. The dish was "finished" by planting some micro greens in the "soil" surface. Iuzzini described the comradery that has developed amongst the three of them as well as other chefs. He said, "we have a level of comradery that I don't think existed for a while. We all make each other better. We all improve each other. We wouldn't be the same, as creative, without each other."
Sam Mason, formerly the head chef at Tailor, maintains an interest in all areas of cuisine and enjoys producing savory, pastry and cocktail creations. For this demonstration he infused Hudson corn whiskey "moonshine" with Kraft BBQ sauce, using a process that he first applied to making a molé infused rum. To make this work, he needed to separate the flavor from its original source and make it part of the alcohol. He whisked the BBQ sauce with the corn whiskey before freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Since alcohol is difficult to freeze, the process takes time. An additional difficulty is that once frozen, it is difficult to remove the solidified mixture from the pot. From there, it goes into a cone filter and as the solid melts, a potent alcohol with BBQ flavor separates out. While he started with an essentially clear alcohol, the final product is more of a caramel brown color.
Figuring that a regular old shot glass "would be boring," Mason searched for another vehicle for his creation, settling on an old favorite – watermelon. Mason dissolved gelatin on the stove in the BBQ flavored whiskey to make a 5% gel, which he added to cubed watermelon in a cryovac bag and vacuum sealed it to impregnate the watermelon with the gelatin. The result was somewhat translucent watermelon cubes packed full of the BBQ corn whiskey.
Alex Stupak, Pastry Chef at the über-creative WD-50, described himself as "the prima donna of the group" since he brought "the most stuff." His demonstration was the most intricate and involved on stage as he demonstrated his version of the all-American classic "Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream." Of course this would not be an ordinary apple pie with vanilla ice cream. It would be one as conceived at WD-50, certainly one of the most creative restaurants in the country and beyond. For the demonstration, Stupak focused on two specific parts of the dish secondary to time constraints – the ice cream and the apples.
Given the wide variety of flavors used in ice cream today, Stupak figured that "the most avant-garde flavor" today is actually vanilla. Using a "normal vanilla ice cream recipe", he wanted to create an ice cream with a soft center comprised of a toffee made from sugar, cream and applejack brandy, which he called "the first booze ever created in the U.S. Stupak took pvc molds, lined them with plastic wrap and put masking tape on the bottom to facilitate subsequent release of the ice cream. He squeezed some soon to be ice cream into his molds then in separate molds added the toffee, which he then froze solid with liquid nitrogen. Since the toffee contains alcohol it would not freeze well in a normal freezer, instead it would have "the texture of a really soft candy." With the liquid nitrogen both below and above the toffee that was placed in demisphere molds, it froze quickly. , allowing Stupak to place them in the pvc molds on top of a base of ice cream before being topped off with more ice cream and being placed in the freezer, where the ice cream would firm up while the center softened. Stupak opened one that had already been made to show the soft gooey center.
For the apples, Stupak took Portland apples, diced them and mixed them with several ingredients including honey, cinnamon and vanilla and roasted them until they were tender. The diced apples were then added to gelatinized apple juice (5 sheets of gelatin to 50g of apple juice) to coat the apples. The gelatinized apple mixture was then laid out on a sheet of plastic wrap, flattened and refrigerated to create an apple mosaic. Using a sharp knife, Stupak cut squares from the mosaic, which he plated in a form suggesting a slice of apple pie. Since he doesn't like to eat "cold apple pie," Stupak placed the plate under a salamander to melt the gelatin. He added pie crust in the form of shards and a powder to the plate "for texture" as well as dollops of pecan puree and boiled, glazed and deep-fried pecans. The plate was rounded out with crispy dehydrated shards of brown sugar that had been made from brown sugar mixed egg whites and placed in a dehydrator overnight, apple cider foam, melted brown butter with essence of vanilla bean and finally the ice cream, which was placed atop the pie crust. Stupak's parting words were "I think we've found with molecular gastronomy that it is easy to strip away the spirit of a dish, but desserts are desserts – we still like butter, we still like cream, we still like sugar, and it's all there!"