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How I Learned to Love the Art of Sous-Vide Under the Tutelage of Its Inventor

Jordan Wright
May 22, 2017
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
 

In a non-descript two-story building in Sterling, VA, in a suburb better known for defense contractors and software developers, is a company that has trained more three-star Michelin chefs than any cooking school in the world.  Here at Cuisine Solutions Inc. through their learning division CREA (Culinary Research and Education Academy), I recently participated in a workshop on sous-vide given by Dr. Bruno Goussault, the very scientist who developed the revolutionary technology.

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

There are two divisions under one large corporate umbrella.  Cuisine Solutions sells prepared sous-vide foods to Costco, as well as airlines, cruise ships, the military and major hotel chains worldwide.  And CREA, with locations in France and Sterling, trains chefs in the sous-vide technique with seminars, on-site training and online video courses.  The company opened its $30 million dollar, 163,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art plant in Sterling in 2013.

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Along with Goussault’s many years of experience as a scientist and founder of Centre de Recherche et d’Edudes pour Alimentation in Paris as well as recipient of the “Ordre National du Merite” from the President of France, officers in the company have equally extensive pedigrees.  Stanislas Vilgrain, Chairman and CEO, rose to the top of his career earning the medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic in 2015 after years as a top officer at Vie de France Corporation; Chief Strategy Officer Gerard Bertholon is a Maître Cuisinier de France, one of the world’s highest honors, and trained as a chef under the great Alain Chapel;  Felipe Hasselmann, Cuisine Solutions president, brought his powerful international business development experience from L’Oreal Paris, Coca Cola and Frito Lay; and Bruno Bertin, VP of Culinary Innovation who himself has worked with the legendary Pierre Troisgros, Louis Outhier and Daniel Boulud, as Sous Chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York.

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

Not only did I watch, learn and participate, but I also spent most of the day tasting the results, beginning with a breakfast prepared by a cadre of chefs schooled in the art of sous-vide.  Exquisitely decorated plates were served starting with an egg white and red pepper sous-vide egg bite (these were specially created for Starbucks); bacon and Gruyere egg bite; coconut and chia seed oatmeal parfait; compressed fruit and dragon fruit granite; egg and rosti with sous-vide hollandaise and 72-hour short rib and potato hash served in a miniature cast iron pan.

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

After breakfast our class moved onto nibbles of “sous-shi” – a trompe l’oeil preparation that looked and even tasted like sushi but was entirely vegetarian; a Moroccan dish of octopus, raisins, capers, compressed melon, pomegranate seeds and radishes; Arctic char brandade with ramp aioli; and a sous-vide pig face which offered up meltingly tender cheek meat.  Well fortified, we left the dining area for a large classroom, which is really a laboratory.

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Under the avuncular tutelage of the 75-year old Goussault, “father of sous-vide” and the company’s Founder and Chief Scientist, I slowly shed the neophyte’s notion that sous-vide is a cheater’s technique or a culinary sleight of hand.  There is just as much time and effort put into sous-vide preparation as there is with conventional methods.  In many cases, a lot more goes into achieving the perfection that it guarantees to the chef.  Moreover, I learned that many of the world’s greatest chefs were taught by Goussault – chefs such as Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Dan Barber, Charlie Trotter, Anne-Sophie Pic and the late Michel Richard, who have embraced it wholeheartedly.

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

During this one-day workshop I became a rabid convert, sometimes tasting conventionally prepared product beside sous-vide prepared foods.  I learned how preparing literally tens of thousands of dishes for major events using this method (Cuisine Solutions has catered huge events, like The Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl, for tens of thousands of guests.), offers high quality, consistency, precision and food safety while preventing product loss and spoilage.  Meats are cooked uniformly and fruits and vegetables retain the intense signature of the ingredient.  This was heady stuff for someone not particularly science-minded.

A cadre of chefs create our meals

A cadre of chefs create our meals

Dr. Goussault, who invented the two-minute rice while working in food science for the United Nations in Africa, invented sous-vide in the early 1970’s and continued to tweak and promote it with Joël Robuchon in Paris with the establishment of CREA.  Armed with probes and monitors Dr. Goussault travels the globe throughout the year training chefs in his methods.  He has been compared to Escoffier as a pioneer in the world of gastronomy, and you can take that to the bank!  Some of our local chefs who have trained with him at this facility are from Le Diplomate, Mintwood Place, Green Pig Bistro, The Red Hen, Central Michel Richard, Convivial, Fiola and The Dabney, to name but a few.

Glazing the vegetarian "Sous-shi"

Glazing the vegetarian “Sous-shi”

After discussions on vacuum sealing, water circulators, the precise temperatures for the scale of doneness, and becoming familiar with the various types of machinery involved in this technique, it was time for lunch – Beef sirloin “jar salad’ with ponzu and baby greens; Amazon cod with soy beurre blanc and fiddlehead ferns; braised pork belly over Beluga lentils with shitake broth and wild foraged mushrooms; braised beef cheeks over celery root puree with truffle, triple sauce and pickled ramps.  As each dish was sampled it became clearer to me that food prepared sous-vide results in the superior dishes found in the world’s finest restaurants.  Each ingredient retains its singular identity, and that is a mind-blowing experience.

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Even after such a lavish lunch we continued to sample sous-vide filet of beef, fried chicken, carrots and other delights comparing them alongside traditionally prepared product.  The meats were seared and finished on a flat top grill, the chicken crisped up in a fryer.  The results were remarkable.  In the matter of the chicken, you could just die right there.  It was ultra-crispy while still juicy.  Carrots tasted as though they were picked fresh from the garden and apples like they had just been plucked off a tree.

Platter of citrus madeleines

Platter of citrus madeleines

Cramming ten meals into one day wasn’t for the faint of heart, or I should say, stomach.  At this point I am wishing I had a cow’s four stomachs and a week to digest everything.  But I persist, because this is what I do.  And were we done?

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

No siree!  Desserts were served – chocolate moelleux brightened with raspberry coulis and baskets of citrus madeleines and macarons.

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

After all this, I’m fairly sure I will never attempt to replicate these dishes at home – equipment costs can be out of sight for home cooks and small restaurants, though many do experiment with the concept of sealing and immersion.

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

I certainly came away with a greater appreciation and keener understanding of what sous-vide means and how lucky I am to have been born when it was invented.

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

Here are some pearls of wisdom from Goussault.

* Water is the best fluid to transfer the heat.  When you cook in water you’ll have a beautiful jus.

* Take lemon to the market when you buy fish and squeeze it over the raw fish to determine if it’s fresh.  If it turns opaque, it’s NOT fresh.

* The Maillard reaction has to do with the perception of the color of the meat.  What do you say in a London fog? All the cats are grey!

* Red meat has a thin layer of albumen.  White meat has a thicker layer.

* Vegetables cooked separately retain the integrity of the dish. Cooking vegetables to 85 degrees to respect the pectin will give you the top taste in the world.

* Brine your fish for 10 minutes before cooking.  Fifty grams of salt per one quart of water.

Timon of Athens ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 10, 2017 

Dinner at the home of Timon. Pictured left to right: Michael Dix Thomas, Sean Fri, Kathryn Tkel, Ian Merrill Peakes (center, as Timon), Andhy Mendez, Louis Butelli, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (with Eric Hissom top left). - Photo by Teresa Wood

Dinner at the home of Timon. Pictured left to right: Michael Dix Thomas, Sean Fri, Kathryn Tkel, Ian Merrill Peakes (center, as Timon), Andhy Mendez, Louis Butelli, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (with Eric Hissom top left). – Photo by Teresa Wood

In the high-tech world of fingerprint readers and cell phones, venture capitalists and politicians, Timon collects friends of all stripes.  From artists and philosophers to shop owners and Senators, he entertains them lavishly with Lucullan banquets and gifts of gold and jewels.  “More welcome are you to my fortunes, than they to me,” he says, oozing beneficence from every pore.  Is he seeking favor, or merely attempting to keep his friends close and his enemies closer?

Timon of Athens is a tragedy so seldom performed that audiences may be unfamiliar with it.  It is often snubbed by scholars, which is a pity, for I found some of Shakespeare’s richest prose in this play.  Director Robert Richmond imagines Timon (Ian Merrill Peakes) as a sharkskin suit-sporting businessman enjoying unfettered loyalty from his peers and associates and reveling in their idolatry.  But when friendship comes through financial generosity, is it true?

Cupid (John Floyd) and dancers Phrynia (Aliyah Caldwell, left) and Timandra (Amanda Forstrom) entertain Timon and his party guests - Photo by Teresa Wood

Cupid (John Floyd) and dancers Phrynia (Aliyah Caldwell, left) and Timandra (Amanda Forstrom) entertain Timon and his party guests – Photo by Teresa Wood

We soon discern that only two members of Timon’s coterie are his true friends – Apemantus (Eric Hissom), who delights in bursting Timon’s utopian bubble regarding his fair weather friends, and Flavius (Antoinette Robinson) his faithful servant, whose warnings of his imminent financial ruin fall on deaf ears.

Timon’s downfall doesn’t come without a challenge to the friends who deserted him. He invites them to a banquet where they arrive believing that he has regained his fortunes.  They believe they will again be the recipients of his fortune and are off the hook for abandoning him.  But Timon, who has seen the light and wants payback, serves up a tureen of excrement to his unsuspecting guests.  “I’m sick of this false world,” he confesses.

Banished Alcibiades (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, left) confronts his old companion Timon (Ian Merrill Peakes) - Photo by Teresa Wood

Banished Alcibiades (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, left) confronts his old companion Timon (Ian Merrill Peakes) – Photo by Teresa Wood

Throughout his emotional turmoil, Athens’ war is raging and Matt Otto’s soundtrack of the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gunfire reminds us of Timon’s precarious state and Greece’s uncertain future.

Francesca Talenti’s clever use of a slim band of video projections to introduce the characters is a novel and much appreciated approach to remembering who’s who.  Seeing their names along with their professions projected above their heads as they enter the scene is useful when seeing an unfamiliar play.  It’s later used by Timon as a video selfie when he is reflecting on his life during his darkest hour.

“Undone by goodness.” Ian Merrill Peakes as Timon of Athens - Photo by Teresa Wood

“Undone by goodness.” Ian Merrill Peakes as Timon of Athens – Photo by Teresa Wood

Scenic Designer Tony Cisek turns the theater’s English Tudor style into a sleek modernistic set with multiple entries and a two-level balconied catwalk, perfect for spouting edicts or watching your own destruction.

I can’t say enough about Peakes’ boundless energy, his superb ability veer from joy to pathos, as Timon goes from wealth and generosity to the madness of poverty, loneliness and utter despair.  The entire cast is wonderful.  I could see this play again and again.

I don’t give out stars, so I’ll just lend them.  All five to this stellar production.  See it!

Through June 11th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
May 14, 2017

Philip Fletcher as Frollo (center), with Gargoyle Ensemble Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Philip Fletcher as Frollo (center), with Gargoyle Ensemble Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

The first five minutes of Synetic’s latest production is so haunting you may think you’re having an out-of-body experience.  It comes at you slowly, unwinding like a cobra from a basket.  It’s a visceral sensation from an avant-garde theatre troupe that knows how to jolt the senses and play with the mind.  It starts with the monophonic sounds of Gregorian chants and the tolling of church bells scented with the heavily-perfumed aroma of a smoking incense-burning censer that plunges you into the cosmic world of religious rituals.  It is at this moment that we first see Frollo backlit by a giant blue cross.  He removes his cassock and mask.  We have just come face to face with the dark forces of the church.  Did I flash on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code?  In a New York minute.

Irina Kavsadze as Esmeralda - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Irina Kavsadze as Esmeralda – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Symbols of faith, religion and power are stunningly shattered in Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s highly inventive interpretation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo’s brilliant classic tale.  It tells a story of the gypsy girl Esmeralda (the lithe and emotive Irina Kavsadze) worshipped by hunchbacked bell ringer Quasimodo (Vato Tsikurishvili in one of his finest performances), his patron Frollo (the chameleonic Philip Fletcher), the naïve musician Gringoire (Robert Bowen Smith) and Esmeralda’s paramour Phoebus (Zana Gankhuyag).  In one of Synetic’s most exciting productions to date Tsikurishvili places the emphasis on the dichotomy between the sanctity of the church and the reality of the human condition, and like the troupe’s highly regarded “Silent Shakespeare” series of plays, this production is done without words.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Quasimodo - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Vato Tsikurishvili as Quasimodo – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Set in 15th century Paris the hypocritically pious Frollo is depicted as a high priest rather than the government minister in the original tale.  As in the original, he is conflicted by his religious beliefs and the desires of the flesh.  Scenic Designer Anastasia Rurikov Simes’ set consists of an enormous spiked silver wall constructed with multiple levels.  Within the wall writhing, tormenting gargoyles perch atop the stage serving as judge and witness to those who offend the church.  Simes’ design progressively rotates to reveal a massive glowing cross, Esmeralda’s fiery funeral pyre, a hangman’s platform and ultimately the fixture for Frollo’s self-flagellation and self-crucifixion.

Tori Bertocci (Gypsy/Ensemble) being thrown by Vato Tsikurishvili (Quasimodo) - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Tori Bertocci (Gypsy/Ensemble) being thrown by Vato Tsikurishvili (Quasimodo) – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Dramaturg Nathan Weinberger focuses predominantly on the story’s emotional elements of jealousy, lust, betrayal, domination and retribution.  And as Hugo warned his readers, it challenges the church’s abuse of power through its insistence on blind faith and strict adherence to canonical law.

As is Synetic’s signature, a unique fusion of music, sound effects and lighting play a large part in heightening the drama.  Music Director Irakli Kavsadze’s mix of classical music interwoven with electronica and tango, Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original music and Brian Allard’s suggestively lurid lighting combine with Erik Teague’s highly inventive costumes and wide array of intricately designed masks.

Highly recommended.

Through June 11th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Macbeth ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company Sidney Harmon Hall

Jordan Wright
May 9, 2017 

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Refugees fleeing from Aleppo, Syria is not the first thing that comes to mind when pondering Macbeth, but under the direction of Liesl Tommy it serves as the backdrop for this exciting, new interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy about a paranoid, guilt-ridden, superstitious monarch who seeks power for its own sake.  Ramping up the realism, Tommy gives the roles of the three Witches to two men and a woman who use modern day cell phones and computer technology to communicate their battle plans.  Add to that Broken Chord’s use of original electronica music and you have a relevance to current events that goes far beyond coincidental comparison.

The contemporary dynamic is further emphasized with John Coyne’s neo-industrial set of massive grey concrete blocks, neon tubes and a ceiling of undulating golden silk panels like the shifting sands of a desert.  Photo of oil rigs play against echoes of Al Pacino’s cocaine-fueled meltdown in Scarface, Duncan is a pothead and when Macbeth offers up his “armor”, it’s his bullet-proof vest.

(l-r) Jesse J. Perez as Macbeth, Nikkole Salter as Lady Macbeth and McKinley Belcher III as Banquo. Photo credit Scott Suchman

(l-r) Jesse J. Perez as Macbeth, Nikkole Salter as Lady Macbeth and McKinley Belcher III as Banquo. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Jesse J. Perez as Macbeth seethes with power-mad evil as does Nikkole Salter in the role of Lady Macbeth.  But their amorous connections are palpable and though he complains of her profligate habits, “My wife’s been ordering things from Amazon.”, he is unhesitating in performing her bloody bidding.

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Fighting is carried out by soldiers in modern camouflage uniforms with Uzis and daggers.  Artistic Director Michael Kahn describes his choice of Tommy to direct this searing drama, as such, “Macbeth has always lent itself to political interpretations. It was originally written amidst the anxiety of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a thwarted terrorist attack on Parliament, amid a climate not unlike America after 9/11. As a result, the play not only meditates on the equivocating nature of ambition and power, it also shows how the crimes of ambition and power unravel those that commit them and ripple outward in society, creating a dark atmosphere of paranoia, conspiracy and uncertainty. For centuries, theatre artists have used its grim poetry to probe specific political moments or leaders, from Imperial China to Soviet Russia.”

(l-r) Horace V. Rogers as Lennox, Myra Lucretia Taylor as the Porter and Marcus Naylor as Macduff. Photo credit Scott Suchman

(l-r) Horace V. Rogers as Lennox, Myra Lucretia Taylor as the Porter and Marcus Naylor as Macduff. Photo credit Scott Suchman

And Tommy explains her approach as, “It’s politics – and, it’s also structural politics.  I don’t know if I would have had the same idea if I wasn’t in DC.  This is a production for a DC audience.”

A meaty cast takes the traditional to new heights – Petronia Paley (Duncan), Corey Allen (Malcolm), Nicole King (Donalbain), McKinley Belcher III (Banquo), Marcus Naylor (Macduff), Nilanjana Bose (Lady Macduff), Trinity Sky Deabreu (Young Girl), David Bishins (Porter/Doctor), and Tim Getman and Naomi Jacobson as the three Witches.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through May 28th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Master Class ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
May 9, 2017

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

Ilona Dulaski dons Maria Callas like a full-length mink coat in Terrence McNally’s Master Class now at MetroStage.  Dulaski morphs utterly into the famed and feisty opera diva in all her forms, from the tough broad she was to the tragic figure she became.  Aiming dead eye at the audience, as though we are fellow students of the opera, the prima donna doles out life lessons like lollipops.  So convincing is Dulaski’s delivery that when she demands a pencil be produced for a forgetful student, we begin searching our pockets.  “I always had a pencil.  I never had an orange,” she chides, explaining a youth of deprivation.  And again, insulting each female student for their unprofessional clothing choices, demanding they “have a look”.  “It’s important to have style and élan,” she insists.  And we, the audience, begin to do a mental check on what we wore to the theater.  It’s that visceral.  I kept flashing on Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard for reference and I’m still not sure why.

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

Nick Olcott, who also directs opera productions for Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Washington National Opera, has cleverly cast talented, young local opera singers as Callas’s students – Emily Hanzel as Sophie, Ayana Reed (who we loved in MetroStage’s recent production of Blackberry Days) as Sharon, and Daniel Noone as Tony the tenor (Joshua Baumgardner fills in for Noone on May 18th and 19th).  Singing arias from Tosca and Verdi, the budding performers are a joy to hear, and as neophytes it makes for a credible rapport with Madama Callas as she puts them through their paces like a sergeant barking insults to a group of raw recruits.  “Non-actor” and piano accompanist, Joseph Walsh, better known for conducting opera, does a fine job as wary foil to Callas’s slights.

(l-R) Daniel Noone as Tony and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

(l-R) Daniel Noone as Tony and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

Rhe’a Roland dresses the set to resemble a large classroom at Julliard and Jingwei Dal’s costumes reflect the year 1971 when Callas conducted master classes at the renowned conservatory.  And to set the period further Projection Designer Gordon Nimmo-Smith uses a triptych of screens with photographs of Callas’s lover and abuser Aristotle Onassis who dumped her unceremoniously after a ten-year relationship to marry widow, Jacqueline Kennedy.  Additional footage of Callas’s first marriage to an elderly industrialist shares space with photos and classic recordings of her triumphant performances at La Scala and New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.  It is during these pentimentos that Dulaski, toggling between the voice of Onassis and her own, reenacts conversations from their thorny affair.

Dulaski’s ability to be both poignant and terrifying is riveting.  In a scene depicting Callas’s response to those who bring up her rivals she sizzles with sarcasm, “How can you have rivals when nobody else can do what you do?”McNally portrays the artist as the complex woman she was – driven to succeed through discipline, fear of failure and pluck while subservient to a man who claimed he owned her.  It seems a sort of willful paradox that she allowed men to control her and yet fought tooth and nail against their insults.  To Sharon she warns, “You will in time know how much suffering there is for a woman.”

Highly recommended.

Through June 11th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.