Freeze-Dried Guanciale and Squid Ink Bar Codes

Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill discussing the role of technology at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Mac aficionados have Macworld, auto hounds have the National Auto Show, and gastronomes have Madrid Fusión, the highly anticipated conference (now in its fifth year) featuring some of the world’s top avant-garde chefs. While our experience at this year’s conference was not always everything we anticipated (listen to our podcast below for more detail), we look forward to returning. Here’s what we came away with: what to look forward to, what to see more of, and what to finally commit to the trend graveyard. Consider it your crib sheet to Madrid Fusión 2007.

Coming Up

Malt

Chef Arzak’s seared hake with freeze-dried hake and charred citrus fruit.

Malt isn’t just for chocolate milkshakes, and we’ve been anticipating its coming to greater prominence. Perhaps its double billing at this year’s Madrid Fusíon, both in “beer malt injected” lamb served with a freeze-dried pillow of malt by tastemaker Juan Mari Arzak and in pâtissier Pierre Hermé’s layered dessert of corn, malt, and petit pois, will ensure this ingredient’s imminent rise.

Charred Citrus

Arzak also presented charred citrus fruit—oranges and lemons placed on smoldering coals until their outsides were blistered and blackened. He served them in chunks with seared hake. We can definitely imagine a smoky hunk of citrus adding a bittersweet note to braised pork, roast duck, or almost any savory meat dish.

Frozen Sauce

Grant Achatz’s dish containing crab, sunchoke, mango, pea shoots, edible flowers, lavender “pudding,” crab “custard,” and olive oil “jam,” with a thin sheet of pea sauce.

Chicago chef Grant Achatz presented a new saucing technique, brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness. He spread a very thin, even layer of pea puree on plastic sheeting, then froze it. The frozen sauce was cut squarely and carefully placed over the finished plate—in this case, a crab dish—then heated with a torch, delivering a delicate, even layer of sauce over the entire dish.

Freeze-Drying

Freeze-drying is a technique in which an item is quick-frozen and then put into a vacuum until nearly all the moisture is extracted (the moisture content gets as low as 2 percent). We saw many chefs, from Mauro Uliassi to Juan Mari Arzak, demo dishes using freeze-dried elements. Whether for a freeze-dried guanciale salt or freeze-dried hake (Uliassi and Arzak, respectively), the chefs turn to it to reinforce flavors and intensify the sensory experience.

Legible Food

Seiji Yamamoto silk-screened this 3-D barcode on a plate by using a paste of squid ink, red miso, and poached egg yolk.

It’s official—your cellphone can read your food. Doesn’t that statement make Homaro Cantu’s edible menus suddenly look quaint? Tokyo chef Seiji Yamamoto had the crowd mesmerized when he silk-screened a bar code onto a plate with a simple miso–squid ink paste. His colleague scanned the bar code with his cell phone, which directed him to the restaurant’s website. Of course, it’s unclear how long it will take for any of these technologies, including bar-code-scanning cell phones, to trickle down to us.

Alícia

Ferran Adrià spoke of the Alícia project, named for the new Fundació Alimentació i Ciència (Food and Science Foundation), the first campus of which is being built in Caixa Manresa, Spain. Conceived as a reaction to the bad dietary habits of the Western world, it will offer hands-on education for children and adults on food, cooking, and nutrition, as well as a research area and garden. The organizers hope to establish an Alícia in every Spanish community.

Keep It

Aromas

Chef Achatz’s dessert of caramel and candied orange deep-fried in tempura batter on a cinnamon “candle.”

Chefs are well versed in exploiting the power of aromas to enhance diners’ experiences by triggering memory associations and enhancing dishes. We saw more examples of it at the conference—with Achatz’s fried caramel and candied orange with a cinnamon candle (the 10-inch-long cinnamon stick that holds the battered-and-fried molten caramel and candied orange like an upside-down lollipop is set afire, then blown out for an incense effect at the table) and Heston Blumenthal’s Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop fragrance, a special blend that was applied to the doorjambs both at the conference and at his Fat Duck restaurant to invoke happy childhood memories of candy store exploits. (We liked Blumenthal’s candy bag presentation so much we’ve recreated it for you.)

The Farm-Fork Connection

Chef Yamamoto’s plating in its entirety: toro, poached quail egg yolks, and avocado that have been marinated in a miso-mirin-sake mixture; sweet potato dashi foam; gobo “cork” that has been seared with a branding iron and dipped in a port sauce; grated wasabe; silk-screened barcode made using a paste of squid ink, red miso, and poached egg yolk.

The emphasis on the Alícia project (see above), as well as the presentations by chefs Dan Barber, Santi Santamaría, and Pascal Barbot, reinforced the importance of where our food comes from. It was refreshing to hear traceability of food and sustainable-farming practices given such consideration at a conference known for scientific innovation—even if Adrià, in his presentation, maintained that he cares more about quality than place of origin. Perhaps by next year he’ll have a change of mind.

Kill It

Astronaut Ice Cream

Ferran Adrià’s latest creation: dehydrated and fried rabbit ear.

NASA created it nearly 40 years ago for the Apollo space mission, but for some reason Arzak felt the need to share freeze-dried ice cream with us. Sure, NASA’s take on the treat is Neapolitan (strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate), and Arzak’s is a twist on his famous cheese ice cream, but does that change anything? We think any time you come up with something akin to a NASA culinary creation, you should just shelve it and move on.

Foam

Ming Tsai was doing it on TV in 2000, people. Need we say more? Unless you consider your premium cable stations to be hotbeds of avant-garde culinary trends, we don’t think we need to see any more foam. And, with the exception of Seiji Yamamoto’s sweet potato dashi foam, which we forgive him for because he made it with an aquarium air pump and included in the dish a cellphone-legible bar code (see above), there wasn’t a foam to be seen at this year’s gathering. But if you can’t stand to let the trend die (you know who you are, Marcel), go ahead and try it at home.

Rabbit Ear

We traveled all the way to Madrid for this recipe, generously provided by the folks at Coca-Cola (any chance they got it from a Junior League cookbook from the 1950s?).

El Bulli chef Adrià is known for professing that if something’s been done before, then it might not be worth doing again. He’s also willing to admit that some things are a flop from the start; the dehydrated and fried rabbit ear fell into the latter category.

Product Sponsorships

We have nothing against advertising and corporate product placement. But still, after having watched Arzak’s inspiring lecture and swilled an impressive range of sherries while nibbling slice after thin slice of meltingly delicious jamón iberico, we really do not want a glass of Red Bull. Or a Coke BlaK, and certainly not a recipe for pollo a la Coca-Cola.