By James Briscione, Director of Culinary Research

Gifts are the best and worst part about the holiday season. Receiving = the best. Finding that perfect something-they-don’t-already-have gift for the special person on your list = the worst. For the foodie on your shopping list, we’re here to make your gift search a painless victory. Though stores and online catalogs are filled with hundreds of “must-have” kitchen gadgets, only some of them are actually worth it — others not so much. To help you cut through the clutter and find the best of the best, the following is my list of recommended essential kitchen gifts.

For the foodie who has (almost) everything: Sous vide

Sous vide has long been a favorite technique of top chefs across the globe. Sous vide helps chefs prepare Michelin-quality meals night after night. At home, the sous vide method delivers the most perfectly cooked steaks, chicken, veggies, eggs and more, and with much less effort than you’d expect. For years, sophisticated sous vide equipment carried a price tag that made it inaccessible to home cooks, but today they’re less expensive than a stand mixer. There are many options out there for sous vide cooking, but one of my favorites is the Polyscience Immersion Circulator. Polyscience is the first name in modern cuisine equipment. Venture into any top kitchen in the U.S. and you’re likely to find a piece of their equipment occupying prime real estate.

Bonus gift: Should you or your special someone want a little extra info on the art of sous vide cooking, register for Intro to Sous Vide taught by yours truly at ICE!

sous vide steak sandwiches

Sandwiches with Juicy, Sous Vide Steak

The whipping canister: It’s for more than just dessert

You might know the iSi Whipping Canister as a whipped cream maker, but it is oh-so-much more! In the kitchens at ICE, we use whipping canisters to turn silky vegetable purées into delicate mousses in professional plating classes. It can also be used to create rapid infusions like instant pickling or to make your own customized gin (combine vodka in a canister with juniper, rosemary and coriander, and infuse). They can even be used to make a cake in under a minute.

This is the piece of equipment that pro chefs are freaking out about right now.

For the exhibitionist

Another one of my favorite tools from Polyscience is their Smoking Gun. It’s the perfect way to add a subtle, smoky flavor to nearly any food — from meats to vegetables to cheese. Plus, the smoking gun creates smoke with “generating,” heat, so it can be used to smoke delicate items like lettuce, chilled seafood, even chocolate or cocktails. It takes seconds to set up and produce smoke and fits into a space smaller than a shoebox. The smoking gun can also be used to create dramatic presentations — simply place an upside-down bowl over your plate, pipe a little smoke into the bowl and carry it to the table. When you lift the bowl, your food will be revealed from under a puff of smoke — foodie magic!

Because everyone loves a sharp knife

A knife might be the oldest of cooking tools, but one company is taking a modern approach to the craft. After raising over $1 million on Kickstarter, Misen is one of the hottest new knife makers. Their knives are praised for their perfect design, with balance that makes them both easy to use and beautiful to admire. Misen knives are made with high-quality steel, meaning a sharper, harder edge so this blade can be a kitchen workhorse. Not to mention, they’re priced well below any other quality knife on the market.

The splurge: The Control Freak

The Control Freak is the latest and greatest development from the folks at Polyscience. This is the piece of equipment that pro chefs are freaking out about right now. It combines the precision of sous vide temperature control with the convenience of an induction cooktop — truly remarkable. The Control Freak simplifies the process for nearly every complicated kitchen process, from poaching eggs and making hollandaise to tempering chocolate and perfectly searing a steak. It’s the top item on my list this year — I hope Santa takes note!

Want to get into the kitchen with Chef James? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Culinary Arts program.


By James Briscione­ ­­– Director of Culinary Research

Sous vide cooking is one of the fastest growing trends in modern cooking, among restaurant chefs and home cooks alike. Despite the fact that sous vide was first used in restaurants around the same time that microwave ovens hit the market for home cooks, it’s still viewed as a very new technology. But one thing that has really changed about sous vide over the past 40 years is the price. Sous vide equipment used to carry a price tag (around $1,000) that put it out of reach for most cooks. Today, the average home cook (or professional for that matter!) could be expertly equipped for sous vide cooking for $200 or less. And once you go vac, you’ll never go back. (See what I did there? Sous vide translates to under vacuum. Vac, vacuum…get it?)

sous vide steak sandwiches

The three main reasons for cooking food sous vide are: precision, consistency and convenience. At its core, sous vide cooking is all about precision temperature control — foods are cooked to the exact temperature of their desired doneness. For example: say you like your steak medium-rare. You could do one of two things: One, throw your steak on a grill that is somewhere around 375˚F and leave it there, watching closely, trying to anticipate the moment when the center of that steak is approaching 128˚F and quickly remove the steak to let it stand while the still-searing-hot surface continues to raise the steak’s internal temperature (aka, carryover cooking). Or, you could heat a container of water to exactly 128˚F, place a steak inside a plastic bag (no need for special equipment, a zip top bag is fine) and cook it for anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours (since the outside temperature is the same as the internal, your steak is never going to overcook). And once you decide your favorite temperature for steak doneness, you can cook it consistently to that exact temperature. Sous vide cooking also eliminates the need to precisely time when things finish cooking. Once cooked through, sous vide foods can be held in the hot water for up to two hours before serving. Or, if properly chilled after cooking and kept refrigerated, foods could be cooked more than two weeks in advance with zero decline in flavor or freshness.

sous vide steak

I have been teaching sous vide cooking to students, professionals and home cooks at ICE for over five years, and my wife and I do a lot of sous vide cooking at home. If sous vide seems like too much effort for a home cook with a full work schedule and a family, let me persuade you to consider otherwise: With a busy schedule and two kids, the convenience and quality cannot be beat. What’s more, the sous vide method is easier than you think.

Additionally, for roughly the same amount of time, I have been part of The Official Jets Cooking School — helping Jets fans (and football fans in general) take their tailgating game to the next level. I’m a lifelong football fan and have always loved a good tailgate. As a chef, I don’t mess around when it comes to the food, which is why I love bringing sous vide to the tailgate. I cook my steak, even bacon — trust me on this — at home a day or two before the game. Then I quickly chill the cooked meat in an ice bath before holding it in the fridge or packing it in the cooler and heading for the stadium.

If you’ve had the pleasure of participating in a proper tailgating experience, you know that sometimes the liquid pursuits at the tailgate can lead to, shall we say, “inattentiveness” at the grill. That’s never the case with sous vide: Because everything is already perfectly cooked, you show up and all you need to worry about is heating things up and learning how to humbly accept all the compliments that will be coming your way. Here, I’m sharing with you my favorite tailgating recipe: Sous Vide Peppercorn Crusted Flank Steak and Bacon Sandwiches — take that, overcooked burgers!

 

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Sous Vide Peppercorn Crusted Flank Steak
Servings: makes enough for 8 sandwiches

Recipe note: Cooking bacon sous vide may seem unnecessary, but if you’ve ever tried to cook bacon over a live fire, you know what a dangerous prospect this could be. Precooking bacon eliminates some of the fat that causes flare-ups and minimizes the time you need to have the bacon on the grill, which reduces your chances of burning it!

For the brine 

Ingredients:

1 quart water
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground

Preparation:

  • Combine the water, salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic and pepper in a bowl and whisk until dissolved.
  • Transfer the brine to a one-gallon zip top bag; add the steaks, squeeze out any air and seal. Refrigerate overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours.

 

For the steak

Ingredients:

1 piece flank steak, about 2 pounds, cut into 4 pieces
Black pepper, coarsely ground
12 slices extra thick cut bacon
Horseradish cream (recipe below)
Watercress or arugula, as needed
Rolls, toasted

Preparation:

  • Remove the steaks from the brine and discard the liquid. Pat the steaks dry and coat on both sides with black pepper.
  • Return the steaks to the zip top bag. To seal the bag, submerge the bag with the steaks into a bowl of room temperature water, pushing the steaks below the surface of the water to force any air out of the bag. Continue lowering the bag into water until just the sealing strip remains above water. Press the bag closed and remove the steaks from the water — they should be tightly sealed. If any air remains in the bag, repeat the process.
  • Repeat the above-described process with the bacon, sealing the bacon in a separate bag.
  • Heat a water bath to 57˚C (134.5˚F). Add the steaks to the water and cook for two hours.
  • When the steaks are done, remove from the water and transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Leave the steaks submerged in the ice water for 30 minutes, then store refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for up to six months.
  • Increase the temperature in the water bath to 66˚C (151˚F) and add the bacon. Leave the bacon to cook overnight (8-12 hours). When the bacon is done, remove from the water and transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Leave the bacon submerged in the ice water for 30 minutes, then store refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for up to six months.
  • To serve, allow the steaks and bacon to reach room temperature (they are safe to sit out for up to three hours since both are fully cooked) or quickly reheat both — still sealed in the bag — in a pan of warm water. Quickly sear the steaks and bacon on a hot grill (about one minute per side for the steaks and just 30 seconds per side for the bacon). Thinly slice the steak against the grain and serve on toasted rolls with the bacon, horseradish cream and watercress.

 

For the horseradish cream
Servings: makes about 1 pint

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
½ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
¼ cup prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon Sriracha

Preparation:

  • Combine all ingredients and mix well. Season to taste with salt and add more hot sauce if desired.
  • Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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Want to get in the kitchen with Chef James? Click here for more information on ICE’s Culinary Arts program. 

 

By James Briscione—Director of Culinary Development

An invitation to speak at a TED event has always been a secret dream of mine. No fame or fortune comes with being a speaker at these local conferences, but to receive an email, out of the blue, to present at TEDxWarsaw was one of those moments that made my heart skip a beat. It felt like getting an invite to sit at the cool kids table, because someone, somewhere, thought that I had an “idea worth spreading.”

In particular, when that idea is something you have been crafting, developing and refining for years, that invitation can be the ultimate validation. Of course, as soon as I accepted, the panic and nerves set in. I had one shot—15 minutes—to explain something that took me the better part of four years to figure out. On top of that, I would be halfway across the world, presenting to hundreds of people from different backgrounds and industries. Intimidating, to say the least.

Culinary Arts Instructor James Briscione - Warsaw - City - Institute of Culinary Education

Before I even begin to dive into my talk, I want to share some experiences about where I spoke, because Warsaw is probably more interesting in and of itself than any of the talks presented at TED. Beautiful, fascinating, confusing—it’s a city whose history is as incredible as it is sad. The gorgeous Old Town is tourist central, with small cobblestone streets and tightly-packed buildings. It is reminiscent of other towns I’ve visited in Italy that date back hundreds of years. The difference between this Old Town and those Italian villages is that Warsaw was almost entirely rebuilt in the 1950s. World War II devastated the city, leaving 95% of the buildings—homes, churches, businesses—completely leveled. The reconstruction realistically imitates the former architecture, and today only cracks in the plaster facades give a hint to the old bones that lie beneath. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll see hulking concrete relics of the Communist era, as well as modern European streets with bustling coffee shops and restaurants.

Pierogies - Culinary Arts - James Briscione - Warsaw - Polish Food

Speaking of restaurants, you knew we were going to get to the food eventually, right? Like many of you, my initial thoughts were, “So, Polish food…how many pierogies can you actually eat?” It turns out, I can eat a lot of pierogies! But there is more amazing food happening in Warsaw. I was fortunate to have an awesome host, Gosia Minta, a well-known Warsaw-based blogger and cookbook author who helped me explore the thriving food scene. Like any great cuisine, the food in Warsaw is enhanced thanks to pristine local ingredients and creative chefs putting their twists on traditional dishes.

James Briscione - Fine Dining - Warsaw - Alewino - Restaurants - Culinary Arts

In particular, a memorable meal at alewino surpassed all my expectations: from a warm mousse of smoked eel and farm eggs to foie gras with ramps, morels and buckwheat. It wasn’t just the best meal I had in Warsaw, it was one the best meals I’ve had anywhere recently.

Warsaw - Polish Cuisine - Breakfast - James Briscione - Culinary Arts

Beyond this fine dining experience, there were many other charming spots to mix with the locals over coffee or enjoy a breakfast of traditional bread. But as much as I would have loved to be in Warsaw for an extensive foodie tour alone, there was much work to do. I had my culinary perspective to share—like why a chicken and mushroom burger spread with strawberry ketchup makes perfect sense—and how it may even help solve some the biggest issues that face our current food supply.

Want to know more? Watch my TEDx Talk below!

Want to study the science of flavor and more with Chef James? Learn more about ICE’s School of Culinary Arts.

 

Plating isn’t just an aesthetic choice. It controls the way we interact with our food, from first glimpse to final forkful. Watch as ICE Director of Culinary Development James Briscione reimagines roast duck, using cutting-edge dishware from Front of the House.

From classic French technique to new Nordic and linear styles of plating, Chef James visualizes some of the leading traditional and contemporary methods of visual presentation.

To watch more stunning plating videos from ICE, visit ICE.edu/FOH.


By James Briscione—Director of Culinary Development

Preserving seasonal produce is one of the world’s oldest culinary traditions. Growing up down South, the end of summer meant two things: the start of football season and time to start “puttin’ up.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, puttin’ up is the act of harvesting seasonal produce and preserving it to last throughout the winter. This meant canning ripe tomatoes or peaches, blanching and freezing field peas, making jam with figs, berries and persimmons, and pickling every vegetable in sight. It’s not just a Southern thing: across the globe, you’ll find a wide range of traditional methods for extending the life of seasonal flavors.

citrus mandarin buddha's hand, meyer lemon

However, down South, this mindset only seems to strike at the end of summer. I’m sure it has something to do with those stories we read to children about the little squirrel storing up his acorns before the snow falls. Yet winter can be puttin’ up season too. After all, cold weather provides us with an incredible bounty of citrus, including some highly aromatic fruits that are, in some cases, only available for a matter of weeks. This year, I’m picking my favorite unique citrus and puttin’ ‘em up!

Buddha’s hand citron is a wild-looking fruit that looks like a cross between a lemon and an octopus. It has no pulp or juice and is made up entirely of delicately perfumed rind. 

Meyer lemon is less sour than the standard lemon and has a complex, floral aroma that falls somewhere on the spectrum between lemon and orange.

Mandarin orange is a small, squat orange that is closely related to (and sometimes labeled as) a tangerine. They are slightly sweeter than the standard orange, and mandarin rinds boast aromatic hints of vanilla and spice.

Kumquats hail from Southeast Asia and look like tiny, oblong oranges. Their taste can range from sour to sweet, depending on the variety. Unlike most citrus, kumquats are typically eaten whole (rind and all).

Unlike other vegetables and fruits, heat is often your enemy when preserving citrus. Of course, heat is the safest way to preserve foods—ensuring no bacteria remains behind to cause spoilage—but the delicate aromas that are unique to each citrus varietal are destroyed when heated. For that reason, we prefer to use salt or acid to create an environment where bacteria is killed and aromas survive. Below, you’ll find pickling, preserving and candying recipes for preserving seasonal citrus.

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Pickled Kumquat

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 1 lb kumquat, sliced and seeds removed

Combine the sugar, vinegar, ginger and cardamom in a saucepot. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and then set aside to cool. (It is important to make sure the liquid is fully cooled before pouring over the citrus, to ensure the protection of the fruit’s nuanced flavors.) Place the kumquats in a clean jar and pour the pickling liquid over the fruit. They will be ready to eat in 24 hours.

Preserved Mandarin and Meyer Lemons

For the mandarins:

  • 8 mandarin oranges
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ vanilla bean, split
  • 3 pods star anise
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorn
  • 5 tbsp kosher salt
  • 7 tbsp sugar

For the Meyer lemons:

  • 8 Meyer lemons
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 pods star anise
  • Pinch saffron
  • 5 tbsp kosher salt
  • 7 tbsp sugar

Wash the fruit well in warm water and dry. Cut the fruit into quarters and remove any visible seeds. Place the fruit in a bowl with your spices, salt and sugar. Mix thoroughly. Pack the mixture into clean jars or heavy-duty zip-close bags. If using jars, fill to top. If using bags, press out all of the excess air. Seal tightly.

Store at a cool temperature (below 70˚F or in the refrigerator) and leave to cure approximately three weeks (refrigerated preserves will take longer), occasionally turning the jars or bags to shift the contents. Rinse citrus well before using.

Candied Buddha’s Hand

  • 1 Buddha’s hand citron
  • 1½ cups sugar, plus more as needed for finishing
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Candy thermometer

Wash and dry the citron. Separate the “fingers” from the body and slice into ½-inch thick slices. Dice the body into ½-inch cubes. Taste a piece of the fruit: if it is bitter, place the pieces in a pot, cover completely with cold water and bring to a simmer. Drain the citron, discarding the water and cover with fresh water again. Bring back to a simmer and repeat one more time. (If the fruit is not bitter, you can skip this step.)

In a clean pot, combine sugar, salt and 1½ cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the citron and cook at a low boil, until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 230˚F. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Once cooked, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, place the pieces on a rack and leave, uncovered, at room temperature to dry overnight. The next day, lightly toss the dried citron pieces in a bowl with granulated sugar to coat completely. Shake off any excess sugar and store in an airtight container.

Learn more about pickling, preserving and other advanced culinary skills in our career culinary arts and continuing education programs at ICE.


By James Briscione—Director of Culinary Development
 

At ICE, we’re constantly challenging ourselves to identify the issues, trends and ideas that will shape professional kitchens for years to come. In 2015, the topic of food waste was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

For Thanksgiving, my fellow ICE Chef Instructor Jenny McCoy shared two simple recipes utilizing sweet potato scraps and apple cores. In turn, I’ve been challenged to elevate these eco-friendly ideas with a modernist take on food waste. Utilizing leftover vegetables, egg whites and red wine, you can create a sustainable panna cotta that’s fit for fine dining.

food waste compost cuisine vegetarian

Leftover Vegetable Panna Cotta

Makes eight four-ounce servings of panna cotta

  • 2.25g iota-carrageenan (0.3%)
  • 0.375g kappa-carrageenan (0.05%)
  • 500g vegetable puree (made from about 1 lb, or 2 cups leftover vegetables)
  • 250g milk (1 cup)
  • optional: red leaf sorrel (or other small-leaf greens) and edible flowers
  1. Set up a blender and lay out eight four-ounce ramekins. Rub the ramekins with butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Measure the iota-carrageenan and kappa-carrageenan and reserve.
  3. Combine the vegetable puree and milk in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Season to taste.
  4. Quickly transfer the boiling puree mixture to the blender and blend on low. With the blender running, add both of the carrageenans and turn the blender to high. Blend on high for 10 seconds to hydrate the carrageenans.
  5. Immediately pour the puree into the ramekins and refrigerate to set. Refrigerate at least two hours before unmolding.
  6. To plate, unmold panna cotta and decorate with broken shards of meringue, small-leaf greens and edible flower petals.

Crunchy Red Wine Meringue

  • 480g (2 cups) red wine
  • Optional spices: cinnamon stick, fennel seed, star anise
  • 13g (1 tablespoon) red wine vinegar
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 120g (4) egg whites
  • 220g (1 cup) sugar
  • 70g (½ cup) powdered sugar
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 150F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper.
  3. Simmer the wine with spices of your choosing in a small saucepot. Cook until reduced to a glaze. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Set aside to cool while you prepare the meringue.
  4. Place the egg whites in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Whisk by hand or with an electric mixer until very frothy. Continue beating, adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time. When the egg whites are smooth and glossy and hold stiff peaks, stop whisking and fold in the powdered sugar.
  5. Gently fold in the cooled red wine reduction. Don’t worry about any remaining streaks, by the time the mixture is spread on a tray, the color will be homogenous.
  6. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tray. Spread with a spatula into a very thin layer. Dry in the oven at 150F until crisp, about four to six hours. Break into pieces and store in a cool, dry place.

Click here to learn more ways ICE is innovating in the kitchen.

 

By James Briscione—ICE Director of Culinary Development

When ICE set out to develop a Culinary Technology Lab to represent the evolution of cooking, we embarked on a time-traveling mission. Not only were we looking to the future with modernist equipment, but we also wanted to delve deep into the history of culinary techniques.

Among the most interesting “time machines” in our lab are two of the oldest known cooking implements: the tandoor oven and the plancha grill. Originating in Persia, the word tandoor comes from the Babylonian word for fire, and the use of tandoors dates back to 3000 B.C. The plancha, originally a flat top grill made of clay, hails from Central America. Today, the plancha is most associated with cooking at high heat over a metal surface, which can be as simple as a piece of sheet metal suspended over a fire.

If you’re not familiar with tandoor ovens, fire is literally at their core. This vertical clay or ceramic cylinder, traditionally dug into the ground, houses an intense fire at its base that heats both the oven’s thick walls as well as the air within the tandoor’s chamber. Extremely well-insulated, the tandoor can reach temperatures as high as 900˚F—which means when working in the tandoor you have to wear a protective sleeve (or embrace the idea of smooth, hairless forearms). Cooking inside the tandoor takes place in two ways: by sticking a product on the walls of the cylinder or by suspending it on a spit laid over the center.

Naan bread is the most famous product of the tandoor, and it is nearly impossible to make great naan without one. ICE culinary students have an entire lesson devoted to learning to make Asian flatbreads and chutneys, which includes chapati, phulka, poori and scallion bread. With the opening of our Culinary Technology Lab, they can now make authentic naan as well. To prepare naan, students stretch tender rounds of dough made with yeast and yogurt, then slap each round onto the walls of the tandoor. Approximately 90 seconds later, they reach in with a special hook to peel the bread off the walls, then finish it off by brushing the bubbly browned surface of the bread with ghee and freshly ground spices.

tandoor oven institute of culinary education

An ICE student prepares skewered meat in the tandoor oven

To complement your naan, one of the most delicious options is to load long skewers with yogurt-marinated chicken thighs and spiced vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes, peppers or onions, then roast them to smoky, tender perfection. There is no cooking mechanism that can mimic the tandoor’s flavor, especially for fans of traditional Indian cuisine.

You’ve likely experienced the modern version of the plancha in the form of the flat top grill that churns out hash browns, eggs and burgers at your local diner. But looks are the only thing that those one-trick pony flat tops have in common with the precision Wood Stone electric plancha in our Culinary Technology Lab.

For those who have traveled to Central or South America, you may have seen planchas in the form of a hot piece of sheet metal used to sear meat and vegetables over an outdoor fire. The plancha in our Culinary Technology Lab mimics that effect by heating its cooking surface—a nearly two-inch thick slab of steel—to 700˚F. But this plancha can do much more, with four independently controlled temperature zones that hold precise temperatures as low as 300˚F.

shrimp electric plancha institute of culinary education

Grilling shrimp on the electric plancha

Imagine how amazing that diner breakfast would be if your hash browns, eggs and sausage could be cooked at separate temperatures. On the Wood Stone plancha, the front half of the grill can be set on high heat to create crisp, golden and deeply flavorful exteriors on food, while the back half of the plancha maintains low temperatures to ensure a more gentle cooking geared towards a precise level of doneness. It’s a recipe for the most perfectly cooked hamburger you’ve ever tasted: almost charred and brown on the exterior; unbelievably juicy and tender inside.

One of my favorite high-end uses for the plancha is to forgo the greasy fare and sear sea scallops, prawns, tuna or even swordfish. I’ve also found that the plancha is the ideal surface to finish sous vide-cooked meats, which need to be rapidly browned on their exterior without disturbing the delicately cooked interiors. In short, it’s the perfect time-traveling mash-up of modernist and ancient techniques.

With the addition of the tandoor and plancha to the epic firepower of our hearth oven and vertical rotisserie, the Culinary Technology Lab has become my favorite place in ICE’s new facility. Click here to schedule a personal tour—you never know what you might catch me cooking.

 

By Casey Feehan

“There are no new ideas,” the old saying goes. Yet every day a chef will challenge himself to disprove that statement, reimagining the experience of eating and bringing new life to the tried-and-true. Take fish sauce, for example. The 2,000-year old staple of asian cuisine was recently upgraded to “it” condiment, but how to improve upon something with that kind of history? Enter Chef James Briscione’s recipe for Fish Sauce Peanut Brittle, a creative twist on the salty, nostalgic sweet that’s nothing short of surprising.

fish sauce peanut brittle

Fish Sauce Peanut Brittle

Ingredients

  • 415 g sugar
  • 88 g fish sauce
  • 4 g chile
  • 225 g peanut

Instructions

  1. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, fish sauce and chile. Place the pot over medium heat, swirling the mixture occasionally (do not stir). If you notice crystals forming around the edge of the pan, wipe the inside of the pot with a moistened brush to wash the crystals back into the mixture.
  2. Continue cooking at a simmer until the mixture has a deep brown color (12-15 minutes). Carefully judge the color as the fish sauce will make the caramel look darker than it really is. When fully cooked, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the peanuts.
  3. Immediately pour the mixture out onto a greased sheet of wax paper. Cool completely to harden, then break into smaller portions.

For more recipes by ICE Chef Instructors, click here.

 

By Chef James Briscione, Director of Culinary Development

Recently, a little known group composed of the world’s most famous chefs gathered to surprise and celebrate one of their own: Chef Wylie Dufresne. The group, Gelinaz, descended on New York’s Lower East Side to toast the 10th anniversary of Dufresne’s restaurant wd~50, an American temple to avant garde cuisine.

The Gelinaz tribute dinner for Wylie Dufresne's birthday.

The Gelinaz group gathers to honor Wylie Dufresne

While modernist cuisine might not be the first thing that pops into a person’s mind when they think Wylie Dufresne, his food certainly falls into that category. This isn’t surprising. Ask a chef tagged with the “modernist” moniker, and he or she will likely say that they never thought of their own cuisine as such. The label is typically fixed upon a chef by others in the culinary community—often as part of an ongoing debate about the positives and negatives of modernist techniques.

So what exactly is modernist cuisine? In short, it’s a buzzword—the latest term used to describe an innovative and avant garde style of cooking. First popularized by Ferran Adria (the “foam guy”) at his restaurant El Bulli, modernist cuisine has since become known the world over. Previous to Adria, the techniques used in modernist cuisine were housed under the umbrella of molecular gastronomy: a scientific discipline that studies the chemistry of food. Great minds such as Nicholas Kurti, Herve This and Harold McGee made tremendous strides in this field, ultimately inspiring chefs like Adria, Heston Blumenthal and Grant Achatz to incorporate scientific methods into their cooking. Thus, modernist cuisine was born.

The most famous stereotype of modernist cooking? Foam.

The most famous stereotype of modernist cooking? Foam.

The problem with “modern cuisine” is the same that plagues all artistic fields—it is poorly replicated by people that don’t have a firm grasp of the necessary techniques. (For a comparable example, do a Google image search for “bad abstract art”). Beyond the foam, sous-vide and reverse spherification, modernist cooking is really about examining ingredients and asking, “What makes a carrot good?” and “How I make the good part of a carrot better?” Technology has enabled us to find the precise time/temperature ratio that produces a carrot more tender, sweet and delicious. Now, does that carrot taste better when it is in the form a delicate sphere? Probably not. But is it pretty cool looking? Heck yeah!

Applying modernist technique to a dish, without the overly-abstracted presentation.

Applying modernist technique to a dish, without the overly-abstracted presentation.

This is where that slippery slope begins. It took me many years as a chef to learn restraint. To understand that “because I can” is not a good reason to put something on a plate. In the 1970s, we were faced with a comparable culinary movement: nouvelle cuisine. As this lighter perspective on French cooking swept the globe, it led us to some strange and debatably appetizing places. (Imagine raspberry coulis, pushed into a squeeze bottle, to ultimately dot a plate of lightly cooked veal or some other horrific combination.) These things happened because people read an article about Michel Guerard or Fernand Point, but didn’t take the time to understand the heart of what these chefs were creating. Yet no matter its bizarre derivatives, nouvelle cuisine did inspire chefs to question and reimagine the way they approached their own cooking.

New styles of presentation and plating are among the most important influences of the modernist movement.

New styles of presentation and plating are among the most important influences of the modernist movement.

Today, while it could be argued that the stereotypes of modernist cuisine—spheres, foams and other abstractions of ingredients—are considered passé, we see restaurant menus detailing fermented this and housemade that. This trend of DIY, chef-crafted ingredients is a direct result of the scientific modernist movement. Over the past 10 years, kitchens became laboratories. In those labs, ingredients were broken down into their basic components so they could be better understood. Curious chefs discovered new ways to manipulate products, presenting them in new forms on your plate. And while the end product of these “labs” may have shifted from housemade cantaloupe caviar to artisanal pork katsuobushi, let us not forget that the path is essential.

Click here to learn more about Chef James and his work on the very modern Cognitive Cooking project with IBM.

 

By Casey Feehan

Five decades may have gone by, but Nutella remains as sweet as ever. The beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a nation-wide, 16-city food truck tour. In light of the tour, ABC News turned to chefs across the nation, including ICE’s own Director of Culinary Development, Chef James Briscione, to develop iconic Nutella desserts that celebrate the local culinary culture of each of the truck’s 16 stops. James chose to reinterpret Bananas Foster, a classic New Orleans dessert invented in the 1950s. It’s difficult to imagine caramelized bananas and rum leaving room for improvement, but a whipped Nutella cream transforms the dish into a celebration-worthy stunner.

Nutella 50th Anniversary - Banana's Foster Tart with Nutella Mousse - James Briscione / ice.edu

Bananas Foster Tartlet with Nutella Cream

Yield: 4 servings

For the Frangipane:

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup finely ground hazelnuts or almonds
  • 1 fl oz dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Instructions:

  1. Combine the sugar, salt and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg, vanilla and rum; continue mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the ground nuts and flour and fold together until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Excess frangipane may be stored refrigerated up to 2 weeks.

For the tartlets:

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4-inch) rounds puff pastry
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Granulated sugar, as needed
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup Nutella

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Place the rounds of puff pastry on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread the frangipane on the dough, leaving an approximately ¼ inch border. Bake the tart until the crust is risen around the frangipane and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on the pan.
  3. Thinly slice the bananas and tile over the tarts. Spread a thin, even layer of sugar over the tart and brûlée with a torch.
  4. Pour the cream into a chilled bowl and whisk to soft peaks. Place the Nutella in a separate bowl. Whisk half of the whipped cream into the Nutella. Add the remaining cream and fold together until smooth and lightened.
  5. To serve, place the brûléed tart in the center of a plate and top with the Nutella cream.