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NRA Show Update: Under Wraps

By Lisa Shames in Food on May 22, 2007 5:00PM

rsz_sousvide.jpgTo some people – more specifically the U.S. food safety police – sous vide are two very bad words. But the people at Cuisine Solutions, an international food manufacturing company with its U.S. headquarters in Alexandria, Va., that utilizes this style of cooking for the food it prepares for the first-class cabins of Air France and American Airlines, as well as large hotel chains, are working hard to change that perception, and at their recent pre-National Restaurant Show lecture held at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place that’s exactly what they set out to do.

If you haven’t heard of sous vide, don’t feel bad. While it’s been around in Europe since the late ‘60s, sous vide, French for “vacuum packed,” is not exactly legal for restaurant chefs in the U.S. Hence the lack of knowledge for those who don’t find themselves working in high-end restaurant kitchens or who haven’t frequented Michelin-starred eateries in Europe. Simply put, sous vide involves cooking ingredients sealed in a vacuum pouch in water baths for an extended period of time at low temperatures. It’s these low temperatures and a general lack of knowledge that have gotten this style of cooking into – dare we say? -- hot water in this country. But chances are if you’ve dined in some of New York and Chicago’s more creative restaurants you’ve had food cooked sous vide. But don’t look at Chicagoist to name names. We like dining out way too much to do that.

At last Friday’s lecture Bruno Goussault (right), chief scientist at Cuisine Solutions and often referred to as one of the founding fathers of sous vide, along with Gerard Bertholon (left), corporate chef for Cuisine Solutions, attempted to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding sous vide, a technique that’s widely used in European restaurants.

First off, says Goussault, sous vide isn’t just putting food in any old type of plastic bag. Using the right kind of vacuum sealer is important, as is determining the amount of pressure to use, which is different for each type of product. Then there’s the thought that goes into what kind of herbs and flavoring to add to the mix. Finally, and most importantly, there’s the process of determining the exact temperature to use in the water bath. This is where things get tricky since the temperatures the FDA mandates can be too high for this gentler type of cooking. The FDA is worried that in untrained hands this could lead to outbreaks of botulism and listeria. To that effect, Goussault says he did prepare a study proving that cooking the food at a lower temperature did kill the bacteria, but at this point he’s not quite ready to do battle with the powerful government officials, at least not all at once.

Confusing? You betcha, but sous vide is worth the trouble, say many chefs. A big part of its appeal, says Bertholon, is the fact that food prepared this way is better-tasting and more succulent since the low temperatures and vacuum sealing mean there is virtually no loss of natural juices and the herbs are able to truly penetrate the meat, fish or vegetables inside the pouch. In addition, the precision of the process creates food that is the same texture and color every single time.

To make sure Americans aren’t denied this experience, Goussault is working on a one-by-one basis with some of New York’s top chefs and restaurants, thoroughly training them on proper sous vide techniques. So far, WD-50, Per Se, Blue Hill and 11 Madison have thus been able to obtain approval from the FDA to use sous vide. Word is that Chicago restaurants might some day have access to the same type of training. Start salivating now…

Here’s a rundown of what else we spied at the NRA Show:

Chicagoist has been a big fan of Niles-based PolyScience for some time. And so are some big-name Chicago chefs, including Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz, who was the inspiration for PolyScience’s Anti-Griddle, a traditional cooktop which quickly freezes sauces and purees creating a crunchy surface paired with a cool, creamy center.

Speaking of freezing, we tried some wonderfully creamy 100% mango sorbet created in the really expensive Pacojet, a food processor from Europe (we’ve heard that Spanish uber-chef Ferran Adria often uses his for making foie-gras powder).

Rolling papers take on a whole new meaning – and definitely a better-tasting one – with these cedar grilling papers from Fire & Flavor which infuse smoky flavor to whatever you wrap inside of them. Their Plantation Roast Coffee Rub is tasty, too.

We were very happy to find out that our favorite sparkling juice, Izze, has come out with reduced calorie versions, available in Limon, Black Raspberry and Mandarin.

Foams are fun and even more so when someone else makes them. With the crowds we spied sampling the 20 fully prepared ones — think white truffle foam, wasabi foam, BBQ foam, Thai peanut foam —from Cuisine Solutions don’t be surprised if you see some frothiness at a restaurant near you.

We’re not sure how well they really work, but we like the seasoned skewers from Callisons Fine Foods infused with essential oils and herbal extracts. Or maybe it’s just that we like food on a stick.

In the why didn’t they have these when we worked in restaurants file: The CoolChef product line from DayMark, featuring a vest, scarf and headband, absorbs body heat and reduces sweating.

The new wine aerator from Vinturi instantly decants wine, delivering a better bouquet, enhanced flavors and a smoother finish. Just don’t expect your Two Buck Chuck cab to taste like an expensive Silver Oak one.