Monday, April 15, 2013

Miscellaneous Food: Soaked Tomatoes, Herbs and Cheese

This is a really nifty gift idea, which can be done with anything that can be pickled- tomatoes, mushrooms or olives. If you have leftover herbs and some good olive oil, this is a also a lovely way of storing it for when you want to have it with crispy bread or next want to fry up some pasta.

I used sun-dried cherry tomatoes, but you can also use sliced sun-dried tomatoes. I used boccocini, small balls of mozzerella, but a hard cheese like feta actually stores better. If you're adventurous, you can also use anchovies or brined mackeral.

I warmed the olive oil with thyme and rosemary and the tomatoes, but you can use any herbs that you have leftover. Then into sanitized canning jars and tied up with a pretty ribbon!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Miscellaneous: Duck Breast (Duck L'Orange) with Heston Blumenthal's Perfect Mash and Lentils de Puy

This weekend, I decided to take on a Duck L'orange in the Sous Vide. I checked up several recipes, deciding between a charred orange Cointreau recipe here and balsamic honey recipe here. I went to Hubers for some duck breast - for a more economic option you can head to your nearest wet market but I decided to be a bit lazy and treat myself to some beautiful, cleaned cuts of duck breast (below).

I scoured the skins of the ducks and then marinated it with sea salt, pepper, orange peel, thyme and balsamic vinegar. The other seasonings that I saw were Chinese 5-spice mix and dry rub. Then I popped them in the bag and Sous Vide, for 2 hours at 57 C, which the temperature recommended by the many blogs and recipes that I looked up online.

On reflection, the orange peel doesn't really come through after the cooking and I would have cooked it for slightly longer, because as you can see from the photograph, although they were totally cooked, I would have liked it slightly less pink and bloody. I think 3.5 hours would have been more suitable. You should also leave it in the water bath, prefably up to the time that you are ready to sear and serve.  I pulled it out at 2 hours and then returned it to the water bath when I was ready to sear, in retrospect, that was a waste of effort and electrical energy.

I also sous vide some skinned potatoes. I'd watched Heston Blumenthal's video for the perfect potato mash, in which he recommended waxy potatoes (I used waxy thin-skinned red potatoes but I should have used the Australian washed potatoes). These need to be cooked at 70 degrees C for a half hour- this maintains the starch granules instead of having them break and flow forth with their starchiness- this was easier to do in the sous vide. Then, they were brought to a boil until soft and mashed. You are meant to push them through a ricer twice with 1/3rd their weight in butter- so my second lesson was that this was both messy and I didn't have the right equipment!

The other interesting step is that you are meant to use the potato skins and boil them in milk and cream. This infuses the milk with the earthy fullness of the potato skin and indeed, although I thought this sounded dubious, the resulting milk was the most potato-ey, earthy, full-bodied thing I'd tasted, absolutely like fresh potatoes but without their floury taste. Bravo! This is warmed and added back to the potato. To be honest, I found the only way to smoothen the potatoes (which I presumably had not boiled for long enough), was to put the whole thing in a food processor. The mash mellowed from the mash you see above, to the smooth, creamy texture on the plate, but it was still fairly bland, because I had neglected the salt and pepper in favour of the duck juices and also, it did still have small lumps in it- but it was really rich and tasty and I would definitely make it again.

The last step, as you remove the ducks from the sous vide bags, is to pat them dry and sear them, skin side down in a hot pan. Before cooking the duck, you may want to heat up the pan and burn the orange slices on the pan, then de-glaze the pan with orange juice and balsamic vinegar to create a sauce for the duck. The duck breasts produce a lot of oil, which is always likely to back-splatter, making this a much messier enterprise than sous vide cooking would suggest. Spoon the hot oil directly over the duck to help cook and crisp up the skin, then reduce the heat and continue to brown, occasionally pressing the breasts down to ensure good contact between skin and pan. Rest for 5 minutes, then remove to a cutting board and slice.

The lentils de Puy were bought from France and these were just boiled (you can also sous vide, along with the duck and potatoes- talk about a one-pot meal!) with red wine, chicken stock, carrot, celery, tomato paste and onions. You can entirely use the sauce from Sous Vide Short Ribs as the marinade and cooking liquid for the lentils. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Recipe: Matcha Swiss Roll with Salted Caramel Cream and Adzuki Bean

I'm not a huge Swiss Roll fan, in fact, I tend to find them slightly cheap. If you don't believe me on this, you should, for they are simply a commercial leavened sponge cake wrapped around what is usually a highly hydrogenated-fat filled oily cream. I make small exceptions for Japanese Swiss Rolls and that iced childhood favourite that no-one can not enjoy- Artic Rolls.

Swiss Rolls actually aren't that easy to make- genoise sponge is trickier than I think on most occasions. Hence, I've scanned the web to look for good genoise sponge recipes and have tried a whole bunch, I thought I would detail them here, to save you the time and effort of some duds. 

This recipe is quick to make and everyone who has had it, loves the subtle flavours of the tastes and that it is not very sweet at all. The slightly thick, bean-y, musky adzuki cuts through the sweetness, as does the sharp, jasmined bitterness of the green tea. I often find myself as the touchstone for geriatric desserts (I attribute this to my baking quite often for my parent's friends and their biggest compliment is, "it's very good, not too sweet)- this is a sure win both for the non-sweetness and the nuanced yet very Asian combination of flavours. 

I always have a tin of adzuki beans and salted caramel in my fridge, because I use both in macarons, but if you do not, I've included a simple and effective recipe (from Chef Pang of Canele and Antoinette fame, by way of Chubby Hubby) here below.

Caramel Fleur De Sel

200g sugar
1 vanilla pod
200g cream
7g fleur de sel
140g butter, chilled
In a 1 litre heavy based pot, cook the sugar, stirring all the time to get an even caramel. Then add in the vanilla pod, scraped. Add in the warm cream a bit at a time as it will bubble up and splatter. Then add in the fleur de sel. Stir to make sure all the caramel has dissolved. Cool the mixture to approximately 40 degrees Celsius. Add in the well chilled butter, cut into cubes. Using an immersion blender, blend in the butter till you achieve a smooth glossy paste. Line the surface of the caramel with plastic wrap or greaseproof paper to prevent a skin from forming and chill in the fridge until needed.

This recipe makes a large quantity of salted caramel- I actually don't add the butter that is used here, because I use the caramel in buttercream, which already has butter added to it. Cool the caramel in a tupperware and store it in the fridge for later use. This is good in buttercream, whipped cream, over berries or ice cream. 

Sponge recipes are an odd thing, you would think that they are really homogenous but actually, they are not. Most of them toggle between proportions of 4 egg whites and yolks, 75g cake flour and 25g corn flour, 75g sugar. Some have baking powder while others rely only on the egg white for leavening. Some utilize melted butter (most do) and some incorporate cooking oil. Some require you to beat the egg yolks over a hot water bath and some have you merely beat them with sugar, using a wooden spoon (this tends to produce a stiffer, heavier batter). Most importantly, I find that the recipes tend to understate the amount of powdered green tea to use- most say 5g, but you should use at least two healthy tablespoons for a more pronounced, grassy taste. 

I've tried Chocolate and Zucchini's recipe, both yield a sponge that is too dense. If you like a stronger contrast between a dense sponge and the light cream, then you should use those. I'm slowly working through several versions of genoise recipes and the latest one, which produces a loose sponge is the following from Nasi Lemak Lover here. I've been slowly trying and upgrading the recipe I use, but I can only eat my way through so many!

26g unsalted butter, melted
84g egg yolk (5 medium egg yolks)
26g caster sugar
10g green tea powder
126g egg white (4 medium egg whites)
80g caster sugar
47g cake flour, sifted

1. Whisk egg yolks and sugar over a pot of hot water till thicken and pale in color.
2. Add green tea powder into egg yolk mixture, stir well and set aside.
3. In another clean bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until foamy, gradually add in sugar and beat till glossy and soft peaks form.
4. Take one-third of egg whites mixture to mix with the egg yolk mixture using a hand whisk. Then fold in the remaining egg white using a spatula until well combined.
5. Gently fold the sifted flour (in 3 batches) into the batter. Take some batter and add into melted butter to incorporate and add back to the remaining batter and mix well.

The most important part of genoise is the beating of the egg whites (same as chiffon cake)- you want truly stiff and firm pearly white meringue, not the sort of translucent egg whites where the bubbles start popping as you mix the batter- that sort won't give a good body or height to the sponge. It's also important that you mix in just a third of the egg white meringue into the egg yolk and flour, to give it some thickness- then add the rest of the egg white. Don't mix until every spot of egg white has disappeared, it's not quite possible and it's fine to have some remaining pieces of egg white. 

Spread the batter thinly over 2 papered sponge roll pans and bake at 180C for 8 minutes. If you don't have jelly pans, you can use cookie sheets, or any shallow flat tray that has shallow edges. Take care not to bake it until there are browned edges- swiss rolls don't have crispy surfaces. When the sponge is baked, lift off the paper and while it is still warm, roll the sponge up tightly with the parchment paper. This helps to form the shape and pliability for the swiss roll- if you try to roll it only after cooled, the roll will tend to crack. Hold the rolled-up shape in position for awhile, then release it to cool, opened. I tend to like my sponge fairly thin and I use one recipe to two jelly trays, spreading it fairly thin. If you like a thicker sponge, then you should just make one pan. 

When the sponge is completely cool, beat whipping cream with powdered sugar and a tablespoon of salted caramel. I use about 3/4 cup of cream with 1/6th a cup of powdered sugar. To get the best results and quickest whip for the cream, chill both the cream and the metal bowl in the fridge, in fact, I leave the metal bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. I've tried stabilizing the whipping cream by adding melted and cooled gelatin- this method is suggested for strawberry short cake. For some reason (and let me know if you've had different experiences), the addition of the gelatin doesn't help my cream to set, in fact, it tends to have the effect of causing the cream to break somewhat. Without it and if you stop in time, rather than over-beating your cream, you'll get lovely, velveteen, tan brown swirls flecked with vanilla beans. 

I also find it slightly too tedious (the extra step of fiddling with, melting and re-heating the gelatin) and it imparts a thicker texture to the cream that isn't really necessary, it's actually nicer when left delicate, lighter-than-air and with just the flavour from the salted caramel to tint it. It sets off the thicker sponge and adzuki better that way. It's for the same reason that you should never use buttercream for sponge rolls. Cream cheese or marscapone is also pretty disgusting. (If you do make a denser cream though, you must definitely make the lighter sponge). 

Unrolling your sponge roll, fill the edge (you can choose whether you want to roll on the short side or long side) with adzuki bean and then spread the salted caramel cream in an even and thin layer over the rest of the sponge sheet. Re-roll, keeping the roll nice and tight around the intervening layers of cream, wrap the wrong in cling wrap and refrigerate it in the fridge for a day. If you have less time, you can place it in the freezer for 15 min blasts to help the cream to set. I would also advise placing it in the freezer for 15 min directly before slicing and plating the rolls. 

When plating, sieve a small teaspoon of icing sugar over the rolls and use a very sharp knife to slice the rolls evenly. Each roll should be about 1cm in width and if you've done it right, the adzuki bean will be nestled right in the center. They are an easy, sophisticated, cold dessert to serve and can be made way ahead of your dinner party. Enjoy!

Miscellaneous Food: Fun Times with Sous Vide Cooking, Short Ribs and Beef Buakaluak

If you've ever wondered about the culinary phenomenon known as Sous Vide cooking, it's like immersing your food in a kettle, that has an intelligent thermal coil. I don't know if you ever did that primary science project about building a machine that could keep a piece of ice cool for as long as possible (my group carved a little styrofoam Russian Doll out of a cannister and insulated the interior with sawdust- we were 10), but a Sous Vide machine is essentially similar, it's a metallic insulated box fitted with a themacouple and heating coil that can hold the temperature of the water inside the box steady anywhere between 40 degrees to 150 degrees C.

This method of slow cooking, especially for meats, allows the protein strands to break down gently, creating a meat that appears hardly cooked but is actually cooked through, and so smooth and soft that it tastes like butter. Despite that and for some reason, I'd never really warmed to the idea of Sous Vide and deliberately avoided it for years, perhaps because it seemed like those infomercials where they sell you cooking bags- do you remember those? You put a chicken in a bag and microwave it and it comes out perfectly cooked? It just sounded hokey. I'm also slightly paranoid about acquiring kitchen equipment that doesn't have multiple uses or which can be replicated by other items, like a pressure cooker or a crock pot (neither of which I have, because one make scary noises and the other... but I digress). 

The recipe that turned me on to the Sous Vide method was Chef Malcolm Lee's Beef Buakaluak, where he cooked beef cheek for 5 hours at 80 degrees C, in buakaluak sauce. What a clever idea- of course the buakaluak sauce cooks through and perfumes the meat, yet keeps it perfectly supple and striated. After eating yet another perfect dish of his warm, savoury, rich beef buakaluak, I put out an SOS for anyone who would let me play with their Sous Vide equipment and was blessed to have great friends respond. (I also discovered that generally, the Sous Vide machine is quite a white elephant). 

It is, however, a really neat piece of kit. At full price, the most popular home Sous Vide machine, the Sous Vide Supreme, is about $600 and more for the sealing vacumn but on sale, I notice it has gone down to about half that. It's not that impressive though, just a regular box, with a thermostat. I was very careful when putting together the pieces, tipping the hot water in and setting the temperature. The sealing of the bags took me awhile to work out but it's really cool- if you were one of those kids who liked to fiddle and played with those cheap hand-held sealers that glued plastic bags close, you'll love this (and they are really good for vacuming herbs and vegetables in bags to keep them fresh). I was absolutely gleeful at this part. 

I tried out a few recipes, the first being the beef buakaluak with beef cheek or beef shin. I quickly ran into the common issues that users complain about, with the sous vide. First- it is time consuming. Not just because the water takes time to heat up, which is actually fine, since you need time to prep before plopping the bags in, but because most recipes, in water, at low heat, will take several hours to accomplish. There is a reason you usually stir-fry on high heat- it's faster.

The Sous Vide is best for the well-prepared cook, not necessarily the home cook for two reasons- first, you can only really eat the meal the day after it's cooked, or start in the morning, or at best, at lunch, for a meal at night. And second, if you are sealing liquids into a bag, you should be freezing those liquids first, which means that marinades, sauces and cooking liquid needs to be prepped up to several days beforehand. I froze my sauce in little plastic tupperware cups lined with clingwrap, so that I could cleanly pull out the frozen pucks of sauce, as you see in the picture above, and wouldn't have to wash out the cups.

It also doesn't take cooking out of the equation- for example, the beef buakaluak, needs to be cooked with buakaluak sauce, which is spices, lemongrass and the flesh of the local buakaluak nut slowly dry-fried in oil. This is the most tedious part of most Peranakan dishes, so if you  have to procure the buakaluak sauce, you have to spend a lot of time and preparation effort in the kitchen anyway. This idea that the Sous Vide makes for 'easier cooking' is quite a myth. If you can't cook, then the Sous Vide isn't going to add much to your life. 

What is does do though, is help to take the "attention" part of cooking out of the equation. Instead of having to watch a fire or an oven, you can simply leave your bags in water for hours. Even if you are out for an extra hour, it does not dry up, it does not burn, it stays immobile and cooking slowly in the lukewarm water and won't start a fire. It is also more accurate, with the water being able to conduct heat to within a degree of the pre-set temperature, as opposed to say an oven, where the air molecules don't transmit heat evenly.

The second bag that I put into the Sous Vide was just chopped sweet potato and carrot- this was going to cook for 2 hours, until tender and then get pureed as an accompaniment to the short ribs. It is possible to cook an entire meal in the Sous Vide and save time, because you can cook all the bags together.

The caveat is, they have to be cooked at the same temperature, and therefore you have to adjust the cooking time of 'sous vide' recipes slightly to compensate for that. This bag was quite a surprise, it comes out of the Sous Vide looking exactly as it went in, except bouncy soft- the vegetables keep their raw colour because they don't oxidise and the strong and high flash heat from stir-frying, for example, doesn't sear away their pigment. I gave this bag to my friend with a young baby, to test out for baby food puree- I can see that it would be much brighter than usual steamed vegetables and probably more concentrated, because they literally, cook in their own juices. 

If you have been to a Japanese izakaya and had sweet potato that has been burned over a charcoal fire, you would know what the texture is like and how the blistered skin, (prefably with a square of hot, sweet Japanese butter) gives way easily to the soft, caramelized interior of the potato. If you Sous Vide an entire sweet potato, it will be somewhat similar, except deceptive, because the exterior will look completely normal and raw, but the inside will be perfectly cooked, soft and very, very sweet. It will probably be sweeter than being smoked over a fire because it will have cooked for much longer and therefore released much more sugar. But it will not have the smoked taste. In fact, it won't have come into contact with high heat at all, so it will have no 'char' taste. This is probably why Sous Vide is considered one of the healthier forms of cooking- but probably also why so much restaurant food, taste so sterile and 'cooked yet tasteless' these days. 

This is also why a lot of Sous Vide is combined with searing before or after it is cooked. David Chang's Momofuku recipe for 72-hour ribs, suggests that after the water bath, you deep fry the ribs to give them texture and browning. That makes perfect sense. But it also means that actually you do have to do a lot of work not just before but also after the Sous Vide. 

In professional kitchens though, I can see exactly why the Sous Vide machine is such a boon. In fact, in any situation where you are cooking for a large number of people, it is incredibly helpful, but particularly in a large restaurant where you have calls for different kinds of meat, confits and shanks and ribs and steaks, essentially, you could have a line-up of perhaps 10 Sous Vide machines, all quietly heating different types of meat to various degrees of done-ness. It would be silent and eerie and clean, like a lab growing different aliens in bell jars.

The machines would keep the bags of meat or vegetables perfectly warm and when the diner called for a meal, they would be fished from their bath, cut open, emptied in a hot pan and seared, then plated and served still hot. It allows for control and it allows for each plate to be kept hot, rather then stored cold and reheated. 

I admit that I was suckered into making the short ribs because of a beautiful cut of meat at the butchers, it was pink perfection, marbled USDA prime. This was a great deal- from the same cut as the USDA rib eye but for half the price, and looked just lovely, cut into square pieces. If you are planning to make the short ribs, you should have lots and lots of odori (the holy trinity of carrots, onions and celery). 

The small bowl, by the way, is a small chunk of butter, into which I mix herbs like rosemary, thyme, garlic and parsley. A tip that every home chef should know is that you should keep a tub of some butter mixed with garlic and herbs, in the freezer. Every time you have leftover herbs, chop them up and mix them into that same tub of butter, then freeze. This way you don't waste anything. You can also do this with olive oil- the fat basically preserves the herbs and when you next need to cook, whether it be meat bolognaise, or sauteed vegetables, or garlic bread, you can use some of that oil or butter. Every time you use a little, add a bit more fresh butter, then just keep adding all your leftover herbs over time, instead of letting them go bad in the fridge. 

I heated up the pan to a high heat, then seared the sides of the short ribs quickly and deglazed the pan with some leftover wine from last night's dinner. Pouring the glaze aside, I sauteed the vegetables, adding stock, wine and tomato paste, then put the short ribs and stewing liquid into the vacumn bags and sealed them. Then, fishing out the sweet potatoes which were done by then, I added the bags of meat into the Sous Vide for their long 18 hour sleep. 

The oddest thing about this process is probably shown by the picture above, the tray next to the machine is my drying rack- traditionally, when you pull out cooked food, usually with greasy tongs, you need a wooden cutting board, or a metal rack to rest it on, or else a plate or blotting paper. In this case, your tongs come out of near-boiling water clean and you need somewhere to dry off and cool your bags of food. It's somewhat bizarre. 

The other thing of course, is the absence of smell. You may be accustomed to dancing around the cooking, asking, is it done, is it done? And of course, in this instance, there's no real way to tell, because the bags look, for the most part, exactly the way they did when they went in and there's absolutely no aroma.

It's science- you just have to trust that meat at 80 degrees (and some people use it at 50 degrees which is woo, even more walking on the wild side) for 5 hours will produce a certain done-ness and redness of meat. I guess it's a bit like steak and the timing and temperature for perfect medium rare, but done in a total and literal vacumn of smell and sound. I can imagine that the Sous Vide is actually great for Indian food particularly, and it's only when you cut open a bag of dhal for example, that you'll be able to smell the onions, the cumin, the saffron- it really cuts apart the different touchstones of human senses.

Of course, the true test is in the taste. This was the beef buakaluak that I had cooking at 80 degrees for 5 hours and the same picture of the meat, cut open. The odd thing is, when the meat is packed within the bag, it is deceptively solid and when chilled in the fridge, it is deceptively hard. It was actually really soft, although when I was first heating it up, I really worried that I had undercooked it. When I prodded it with a fork though, the thin strands of meat all started to come apart. Also, when the packets cool down, the fat from the meat coagulates into these orange solids, so it is perfectly easy to remove them, leaving behind a thick, luxious and hopefully more nutritious sauce. 

The result was simply sublime, soft, tender, falling apart within it's own sauce. The only compliant that I've heard about the sous vide taste is that all meat is indistinguishable, it is all gelatinous and without flavour. It is definitely true that there are many modern Europrean restaurants that use sous vide extensively and I have to agree about the homogeneity of the taste and texture of meat particularly if you have too much of it. In the case of a once-in-a-while dish like the beef buakaluak, the mouth-feel of the striated meat was excellent, it was as rich as butter, and the beef cheek gave it enough body to not be mushy.  

This was the beef short ribs that I had put in the sous vide for about 12 hours. I didn't do the whole 72 hours in the end, as it felt a bit obsessive. In truth, it really doesn't need that much time and while I appreciate that it would be a lot softer if I had cooked it at 57 degrees C instead of 80 degrees C, this was plenty soft for me. The short ribs were especially buttery and felt apart as they were forked through- delicious and tasty. 

What amazed me particularly, was how solid the short ribs looked when they came out of their packet- deceptively whole and square. But with just a prod, they fall open as shown in the second picture. I think this was the dish that really sets sous vide apart and I can imagine it being used for multiples of uses, including different meats and meat ragu pastas. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Miscellaneous Food: Heston Blumenthal at Andre - The Evolution of Taste

I was really blown away by a recent dinner, where I was lucky enough to be an invited guest at a womens' event. The funny thing was, I didn't know if I had been included until the day itself, which meant that after work, I was dressed up and still not quite sure if I'd any place to go. Although the dinner was headlined as Heston Blumenthal at Andre, somehow I understood that to be Andre takes on Heston Blumenthal's recipes. (You know, like the Youtube ones- yes, I was having an off day). To be honest, it was quite enough to be invited to dinner, surrounded by some wonderful women but....

Imagine my surprise when I was shown into the restaurant and up the elevator and the doors open and I found myself face to face with, Heston Blumenthal himself! What exactly does one say in such situations? "Triple fried chips! Triple fried chips! Can we get a picture?" No, actually you talk about food in Singapore and what he has been up to recently. Then, thankfully, we were whisked away to dinner, a wonderful affair laid out by Andre and his team, so I was spared my own embarassing fan-dom. 

The titled "Snackings", were small plates filled with molecular Fish and Chips, Chlorophyll Capsules, these awesome little bubble-like pods filled with a green liquid. There were also simple but tasty items like Potato Bravas, Summer Porcini, Lemon Sous Vide and White Asparagus Meringue. 

The first plate was an Andre classic and tribute to Japanese ingredients, the Mosiac of Japanese seafood on arrival (this was small bits and pieces of very fresh and rare sashimi), seasonal wild forest herb coulis, spring flowers and edible plants. This was followed by a second and then a third course, the Roasting broth of fifteen mushrooms (fifteen, woohoo!), Omi beef and Cevenne onion confit, baby mushroom caviar. 

This was my favourite dish, two thick slices of beautiful beef, seared on the outside but with that distinctive Japanese pink marbling. The broth was then poured from a curved teapot into the platter and the combination was just delicate and yet meaty, luxurious yet light.  The dish that I pictured above was the last course, of 5 main courses, the Pigeon de Bresse "a la plancha" with Noirmoutier potato glass (a lovely smooth texture) and Wild spring asparagus cooked in milk.

Dinner was for want of a better word, a remarkable and charming affair. It was like Andre but taken to a higher plain of dedication. Each dish was beautifully and I could tell carefully, prepared and service was as usual, impeccable. But then, we were all rather on a high to be joined by Heston at dinner- maybe even a good burger would have sufficed, so it was a treat that have such a lovingly plated meal and unlike most meals at Andre, this was really filling!

Dessert was not one but a trio of dishes, first the Purified yoghurt "a la maison" that came in the beautiful glass jar, Granny Smith VS Wild Fennel and the last, which was I think my favourite, Andre's classic Snickers 2012, which is a deconstructed dessert of chocolate, peanuts, caramel, freeze-dried ice cream. All the desserts were very tasty, with his characteristic balance of sweet and savory tastes. 

The meal was complimented with some lovely wines and an amazing company of some very qualified and inspiration women. It was absolutely beautiful work and the two chefs clearly have mutual respect for each other's process- Heston complimented Andre on the food and the distinct pleasure of being cooked for, and Andre looked awed by Heston's later presentation and said he found his work interesting and inspirational.

After dinner, we were treated to a demonstration by Heston and he explained his thinking behind experiential food. I had actually dined at the Fat Duck many years ago and had not been too impressed. While I liked the boldness of the food, I was put off by tastes that I felt clearly didn't go together, like passionfruit and oyster, as well as their admittedly snooty and unaccomadating service. I didn't quite understand what he was trying to accomplish and remembered only a vague combination of tastes and flavours. Why would you pay for that, I wondered, why had we driven hours to Bray to be subjected to this weirdness? The only dish that really stood out for me at his restaurant was the most familiar, a slow-cooked beef with a creamy potato that completely overwhelmed me with its concentrated strength of flavour and made me realize that he indeed was a superb cook. (I just wished at that time that the whole meal had been such).

I guess what I didn't completely understand was the thinking behind why and how he had put together his menu. Taste, he explained, was an evolution of the five senses, the five tastes and the important ingredient of memory. By combining tastes, he was making us question why we liked certain things together and why we were unable to accept certain other combinations (like oyster and passionfruit, for me). Why do we think that ice cream and chocolate go together, or Oreos and icing, but not sweet and salty flavours- when sugar actually enhances salty flavours like olives?

He explained that the ability for our tongue to taste different textures and tastes at different times and in various parts of our mouth, is further complicated by the introduction of senses, other than taste, like smell or hearing, or memory. He did a test with his bacon and eggs ice cream- tasters who were played the sound of bacon frying and sizzling, were more likely to taste pork, while tasters who were played the sound of hens clucking, were more likely to taste egg, even though they tried exactly the same item. It is the role of the brain in connecting sound to taste, or even memory to taste, or smell to memory- for example, does the smell of sweet extinguished candle smoke make you think of birthday cake from your childhood? Or how about when lemongrass or jasmine macarons make you remember old memories from childhood visits to Thailand. Or the smell of liquorice, cinammon and browned sugar spray, would make you think of Hansel and Gretel and an old-fashioned sweet shop.

This is the feeling that he tries to capture in his food, distilling the evolution and evocation of taste. He explained the process of some of his more famous meal items, including the Mad Hatter's Soup, which is his attempt to recreate and riff off old Victorian recipes. He first creates this amazing consomme, then by freezing it and dripping it over a muslin bag, he concentrates the flavours without reheating, which changes both the content and taste. This is then jellied and wrapped in thin gold foil, into the shape of a wristwatch. The idea is that these are brought to your table in a ticking watch box and you then stir the pocket watch into a cup, all symbols from Alice in Wonderland, then you get completely surprised at the end result.

I don't want to spoil the surprise, except to say that Heston was way ahead of his game. He had conceived this, indeed this forms the Forward of his first book called Heston at Home, Simple Recipes for Home Cooks, way before other chefs were even developing the techniques and while building his arsenal of cool, scientific laboratory toys, he had already done research into old recipes and reinvented the theatre of food- different animals that were stiched together and meats that were glued together to amaze the senses, liquids that tasted cold and hot in the same sip, reindeer ice cream on caramelized brioche french toast, incense and extracts from 2000 year old frankincense from Oman. The resources but moreover, the dedication that he brings to food history and cooking, is astonishing and I felt very blessed indeed to be part of this wonderfully curated and educational event.