By Shay Spence
“Refined, yet approachable,” that is how Executive Chef Bryce Shuman describes the fare at his new upscale midtown hotspot, Betony. Last week at ICE, recreational students got an inside look at the magic behind Betony’s remarkable culinary creations in a class taught by Chef Shuman himself.
While this is his first venture into the restaurant industry as an entrepreneur, Shuman is no stranger to the world of fine dining. An alum of Eleven Madison Park, he is known for his ability to achieve the perfect balance of distinct complexity and stunning simplicity in every dish, a talent that comes from years of experience and a very refined palate.
Take, for example, the foie gras “bon bon.” What started as a creative way to use the trimmings from a different foie gras dish has become one of Betony’s signature dishes in its own right (and it’s easy to see why). It’s foie gras coated in candied nuts—what could go wrong?
In their final form, these little bites look like something you might pick out from the display case at your local candy shop. When you take a bite, however, it is so much more. If the balance of flavors and textures a dish packs can be likened to a “symphony in your mouth,” this one is the Philharmonic. The crunchy sweetness of the nuts, married with the savory richness of the foie gras, creates a culinary experience that is one of my most memorable to date.
The secret to this success is careful attention to detail and the complexity of the process itself. The nuts undergo a thorough transformation: they are first cooked in simple syrup, cooled, deep fried until golden brown and crispy, cooled again, then chopped and mixed with spices. The foie gras itself is marinated in a Calvados mixture, cryovaced, then put in the fridge overnight. It comes out looking simple, but the flavor profile is anything but.
Bold simplicity turned out to be a consistent theme in all of the dishes Shuman taught us to make. Even something as commonplace as a grain salad was elevated by using five different types grains and dehydrating half of them to create a contrast in textures. (Shuman considers this one of best and most overlooked dishes on his menu, and I would have to agree.)
The signature dishes of Betony can be summed up as a perfect balance of complexity and simplicity. Shuman wanted to create an atmosphere and menu that could appeal to the masses, yet still satisfy even the most critical food snobs (which he seems to have achieved, earning a coveted three-star rating in the New York Times.) His culinary expertise and approachable demeanor was a pleasure to witness, and by the end of the class, everyone came out with a greater understanding of the intricacies that go into creating a truly unique fine dining experience.
To find out more about cooking classes with guest chefs at ICE, visit recreational.ice.edu.