Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Back at Cornell. I'll try and post as often as I can, probably once a week.

Whenever I tell someone I'm a food science major I am met with a look of intrigue and confusion. Invariably they ask, "What exactly is food science?" My stock answers have been concepts like artificial flavorings (how your Dorito's taste like Cool Ranch or Nacho), genetically modified crops, and recently, understanding why Twinkies last forever.

The other day, though, I realized I don't know much about Twinkies. So I googled.

Twinkies were invented in Illinois by James Dewar. During World War II, when strawberries were on ration, many of Hostess's machines used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcake's sat idle. Dewar thought up a snack cake made with yellow batter and filled with vanilla cream. The snack was extremely popular and Hostess never looked back.

The story behind the name goes like this. One day Dewar was driving by a billboard advertising "Twinkle Toe Shoes," he read Twinkie, thought it was catchy, and voila.

Alright, down to the numbers. A Twinkie weighs 43 grams and is 150 calories (40 of those coming from fat). It contains 12% of the saturated fat you need in a day (a large amount, considering a Twinkie only weighs 43 grams). One Twinkie has 19 grams of sugar (for comparison, a can of coke has 39 and a Snicker bar has 29). Redeeming qualities: 1 gram of protein, a bit of calcium, and some iron.

Now for the fun part. This is the ingredient list: Enriched Wheat Flour (enriched with ferrous sulphate, B vitamins, riboflavin, and folic acid), sugar, corn syrup, water, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable shortening, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings, salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup solids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium stearol lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artifical flavours, caramel color, sorbic acid, yellow 5 and red 40.


So why does your snack have to sound like a chemistry experiment?

Monoglycerides and diglycerides are emulsifiers that act as egg supplements. They stabilize the cake batter, enhance flavor, and extend shelf life. Only a tiny amount of real whole eggs are added (to leaven the cake).

Polysorbate 60 keeps the cream filling creamy without the use of real fat (which would spoil).

Hydrogenated shortening replaces butter, giving the cake some texture and extending shelf life.

Sorbic acid is the main preservative--it stops the formation of mold.

Cellulose gum replaces fat in the cream filling.

The other odd sounding ingredients are mostly synthesized proteins that give the Twinkie flavor, texture, or shelf life.

An interesting side note: the artificial butter flavoring used in the yellow cake and the artificial vanilla flavoring used in the cream filling are both derived from petroleum. Yum.

So, to be fair, Twinkies aren't really bad for you, they're just not good for you either. Think of them as the marijuana of the food world.

Friday, January 22, 2010


This post is a bit of a mash-up.

Dinner in Miami: I had a fantastic dinner last night at Senora Martinez, Michelle Bernstein's new restaurant in the Design District.

Like Michy's, it serves her same Spanish influenced food, this time tapas style. Most plates are between $7 and $18 and are meant to be shared. Best dish was foie gras with brown buttered apples and pulled braised pork--ridiculously good. Desserts were okay (churros with spicy chocolate sauce were good) but nowhere near the level of what Hedy Goldsmith is doing at Michael's Genuine (about fifty feet away).

Aquavit: I recently had the opportunity to try aquavit. It's a Scandinavian drink that is usually distilled from potatoes, much like vodka. After fermenting it is usually flavored with herbs or spices (caraway, cardamom, cumin, anise, orange/lemon peel, fennel or dill). It's normally around 40% alcohol by volume. The name comes from aqua vitae, Latin for "water of life." It tastes similar to vodka but punches you in the face a bit more.

NYC Restaurant Week: January 25 to February 7 is restaurant week in New York City. About 240 restaurants will be offering $24.07 lunches and $35 dinners, both three-course, prix-fixe. Some great restaurants are participating, including A Voce, Aureole, Gotham Bar and Grill, Bar Boulud, Aquavit, DBGB, Le Cirque, Morimoto, The Red Cat, Jean-George, Telepan, and The River Cafe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This will probably be the last wine I post about for a while. I'm headed back to Ithaca this weekend, and I have a feeling my suite-mates will prefer spending their Saturday nights getting shit faced off of Bacardi to tasting Sauvignon Blancs.

Anyway, on to Sauternes. Before I tasted this stuff I didn't really know what I was getting into. I knew it was a "fortified wine", meaning it had a higher alcohol content that normal wines, and that it was sweeter and considered a "dessert wine."

This stuff is dangerous. It's as sweet as a syrup with the consistency of white wine and none of the bite or throat scratch of alcohol. It would be very, very easy to get drunk off Sauternes. (Apparently the hangovers are brutal, though). But I'm ahead of myself.

Sauternes is a French dessert wine from the (duh) Sauternes region of Bordeaux. It is made from a variety of grapes that are exposed to Botrytis cinerea (noble rot). The rot causes the grapes to become partially raisined, concentrating their sugar content.

The rot can easily overtake and destroy the vine though, so production from year to year is hit or miss, and vintages can vary wildly. Because of this, Sauternes are unusually expensive--half-bottles often retail for $20 or more.

Sauternes are the longest lived wines, sometimes aged one hundred years. They are extremely sweet and are described as tasting of apricots, honey, and peaches.

The Sauternes I tasted, a 2006 Chateau du Grand Carretey, was delicious. In fact, it was downright yummy. It had a hint of acidity, but mostly tasted of vanilla and honey. For anyone who wants a drink but doesn't like the taste of alcohol (or rather the throat feel), this is a drink for you.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


This is the granddaddy of molecular gastronomy. Originally used by Ferran Adria at el Bulli, the technique of 'spherification' has been imitated around the world by chefs looking for a simple way to impress diners.

A hydrocolloid is a substance that forms a gel on contact with water. They are usually polysaccharides (sugars) or proteins that are capable of thickening and gelling a liquid.

Hydrocolloids are usually derived from natural sources; agar agar and carrageenan are extracted from seaweed, gelatin from mammal bones, and pectin from citrus peel. They have been used for decades to thicken jams and jellies, and gelatin was made popular by its use in Jell-O.

Chefs have begun using hydrocolloids like xanthan gum and sodium alginate to "spherify" foods.

The simplest method is to enrich some liquid (usually a fruit or vegetable puree) with calcium chloride. The thickened liquid is the spooned into a bath of water and sodium alginate and left to sit for a minute or two. The two chemicals react and a thin gelatin-like layer surrounds the liquid. The spheres are removed from the bath and rinsed with water. Upon consumption, the sphere "pops" in the mouth, releasing the liquid interior.

Usually used for their "wow" factor, spheres are a great way of delivering an intense shot of flavor in a small package.

Some restaurants are beginning to experiment with using an ice cold bath of grape-seed oil instead of sodium alginate. I have used this technique with pea puree and mango juice and found it to work just as well--if not better--than the alginate method.

The original. el Bulli olives, spherified olive juice.

Grapefruit spheres.

Carrot "caviar", made using a syringe adding the puree to the alginate bath drop-wise.

A dish I had at Alinea based around butter. Combined all the elements we usually associate with melted butter (crab, popcorn, sweet corn). The yellow orb near the center of the dish is a sphere of melted butter. The sphere is meant to be nudged open--the butter acts as a sauce for the dishes components. Not low-cal, but so delicious.

This last picture is just to show that the chloride/alginate technique doesn't have to be used for spheres. While staging at Jean-George I made components of the dish below, a scoop of vanilla ice cream sitting atop chocolate noodles in a peppermint broth. The noodles are made using hydrocolloids and are extruded into an alginate bath using a thick-tipped syringe. On my last night there I tasted the dish, and when you get a bit of every component at once, it tastes exactly like mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pinot Noir

I've been spending a few days working at Michael's and I've noticed something pretty interesting--kitchens don't really need clocks. In fact, you don't need anything but your nose to tell the time. Every morning I walk in and am greeted with the smell of fruit and herbs, Hedy's making jam, 8 AM. A cold breeze and the smell of produce, Manny brought todays order, 8:45. The smell of bread baking for short rib panini's, 9:15. Tomatoes, harissa is cooking, 9:30. Potatoes frying, 9:45. Altinor is standing next to me cutting pastrami, 10 AM. Servers start arriving, bring out onion dip for service, 10:30. Albert cooks some bacon for his burgers, 10:45. Soup of the day, 11 AM. Chirp-chirp-chirp, first ticket comes in, 11:30. Once lunch starts, things can get tricky. However, my clock is reset by meat. Around 1 PM the short ribs come out of the oven (I can't really describe what they smell like, but it's noticeable). 2 PM is pork belly--a sweet, funky smell. 2:30 is duck--rosemary, thyme, duck fat. 3 PM is octopus. Lunch starts winding down around three, and the PM shirt arrives between 3:15 and 3:30. By 4, most of the AM cooks have left, and for a few minutes the kitchen smells like, well, nothing.

Michael's kitchen (excluding the open part, which houses the wood burning oven and pastry station)

All right, Pinot.

I recently had a Pinot (a 2006 Clos du Bois), and prior to drinking, my only knowledge on the wine was that quote from Sideways,
"Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet."

Paul Giamatti wasn't far off. Pinot Noir is a grape predominantly used to make red wine. Pinot is hard to grow. It is sensitive to light, cropping levels soil types, and pruning techniques. Once in the winery, the grapes are sensitive to fermentation methods, types of yeast, and the slightest change in region produces wildly different tasting wines. Jancis Robinson, a British wine critic, refers to Pinot as "a minx of a vine."

Even though temperamental and hard to grow, Pinot Noir's are extremely popular. They are smooth, fruity (containing notes of black cherry, raspberry, and currant), and light.

**Yes, I used the term "note" in the previous sentence. Please don't make fun. It is hard to describe wine without sounding pretentious.

Pinot has been described as "sex in a glass," and "a seductive yet fickle mistress."

Pinot thrives in France's Burgundy region, but is grown in pockets across the world, from Moldova to New Zealand.

The Pinot I tried was much more pleasant than the Malbec. Much smoother (there wasn't any sort of bite to it) and fruitier (you can actually taste cherry and raspberry), it began to approach sex in a glass status.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Deconstruction started out as a literary concept. Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher, described deconstruction as a style of literary analysis where "text is analyzed and broken into separate parts that work in the context of a paragraph but may contradict each other." Derrida would look at the individual parts of a commonly accepted whole and analyze how those parts interacted outside of the whole.

Jacques Derrida, looking pretty badass.

Chefs have begun serving deconstructed dishes--a traditional dish served as its component parts. Again, like a lot of things I've written about, this topic is easier to explain through example.

Take a caesar salad: lettuce, dressing (emulsion of egg yolk, anchovy, oil), crouton, parmesan cheese. A deconstructed version of this dish would present all of the flavors of a caesar salad, but with variations on temperature, texture, etc. Instead of grated parmesan, parmesan gel. A crouton becomes brioche foam. The dressing is served as a poached yolk, spherified olive oil, and a seared anchovy. The lettuce might be a sauce made from pureed romaine. The idea is that when you mix everything on the plate together, close your eyes, and take a bite, the result tastes exactly of caesar salad.

Deconstructed caesar salad from a contestant on season six of Top Chef.

Ferran Adria at el Bulli became famous for his deconstructed dishes, as did Wylie Dufresne at wd~50.

I have mixed feelings about this approach to cooking. It is definitely a novel idea and requires a great deal of creativity to execute well. However, it feels a bit superfluous, especially when an entire menu is devoted to deconstructed dishes.

Monday, January 4, 2010


I don't know anything about wine. Well, that's not true. I know very, very, very little about wine. The realization of how much I don't know led me to read the wikipedia entry for "Wine". This, in turn, opened up a whole new can of worms. Not only is there a vast amount to know on the science of grape growing and wine making, but there are the different varieties of grapes, different growing regions in the world, history of those regions, history of individual wineries and estates, etc. Basically, there's a lot to learn.

In no way am I going to turn this into a wine blog. However, I do think it will be interesting to intersperse the food posts with updates on my wine education.

I'm currently reading "Windows On The World: A Complete Wine Course" by Kevin Zraly. It is his 'textbook' on wine; an overview of the different grapes, growers, and types of wine.

Also, I recently tasted my first wine. Now, when I say tasted, I mean really tasted. Not, "Would you like to try a sip?", but nose-in-the-glass-swirl-it-around-pretend-to-look-cultured tasted. And you know what? It wasn't half bad.

It was a red wine, a Malbec (my fathers new favorite). Malbec is a variety of purple grape that originated in France. However, in the 1850's, Malbec clippings were brought to Argentina, where the vines flourished. It has become the "national wine" of Argentina.

Malbec's are known for their "complex aromas including ripe plums, blackberries, blueberries, sweet tar, black pepper, mint, and hint of mocha." First, what the hell does "sweet tar" smell or taste like? Second, why is that a redeeming quality in wine?

This Malbec was a 2008 from the Dona Paula Estate in Mendoza, Argentina. It retails for around $15 a bottle. From the list above, I completely agree with the aroma of black pepper. Berries? Not so much. Mocha? Absolutely not. Mint? Wtf. What I found most interesting was the way wine develops. The first sip is pretty much a primer. During the second sip, things start to get real. By the third, I could actually start tasting the nuances and "tannins" (the technical term for the chemicals that carry flavor).

As far as drinking is concerned, the wine goes down smoothly, and is a bit warming. I'm sure as I taste more wine my descriptors will get better, but for now my points of comparison are Keystone Light beer (4% alcohol) and shots of Bacardi 151 (a throat scalding 80% alcohol).

Overall Impression: Pretty good, can see how it would pair well with meat, although I wish I could have tasted blackberries, or at the very least some sweet tar

Friday, January 1, 2010

Trompe l'Oeil

Happy New Years!

I have two new years resolutions, one of which will affect readers of this blog. First, I hereby resolve to read the news every day. After being told I "live under a rock" enough times I've decided that google news and the new york times will become new staples in my online diet. Second, I will make this blog more personal and less encyclopedic.

Before I get to this posts topic, I wanted to take a second and describe who I am. I'm 18 years old and grew up in South Florida. I'm a freshman at Cornell University studying food science. I've been interested in cooking and baking for years. As far as work experience, I spent the last summer (June - August of 2009) working as a prep cook at Michael's Genuine Food and Drink in Miami, FL. Over Thanksgiving break this year, I did a four day staige at Jean-George in NYC, working in the pastry kitchen. I love to cook because it is a way to feed and comfort people, learn, create, and inspire.

Alright, enough about me. On to some freaky shit involving caramel consommé.

Trompe l'Oeil is french for "trick the eye" and is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create optical illusions.

Paintings often use trompe l'oeil to depict objects that appear to be in three-dimensions. Below is an example of this, Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874.

Restaurants have begun using trompe l'oeil to trick diners, often confusing visual and gustatory cues. For example, a side dish of rice and beans could be served in a way such that the "rice" is actually made of beans, and the "beans" are made from rice.

I explained trompe l'oeil to a friend recently and he remarked, "I don't see any reason why I would enjoy that." I agree that out of context the whole concept may sound strange and unnecessary. It's really just about being creative, enjoying great food, and having a laugh while doing so.

Below are several clever examples of this technique.

From Michel Richard's restaurant Citronelle, lemon custard and pound cake under the guise of egg and toast.

From the restaurant IchiMonji in Japan, this bowl of udon is actually a caramel consommé with white chocolate noodles and chocolate garnishes.

From Elisa Strauss's bakery Confetti Cakes, a sushi cake.

Michel Richard's tin of caviar is really a risotto made from couscous and lobster.

I hope everyone had a fantastic new years, best wishes for 2010.