Monthly Archives: November 2013

René Redzepi | A work in progress

Last Saturday, I was fortunate enough to meet one of my inspirations, René Redzepi. In a talk held by the Cookbook Store at the Art Gallery of Ontario, René Redzepi opened up and gave us a glimpse of the inner workings of his creative mind.

René Redzepi

 

In quite a bold move, Redzepi decided to publish his journal that spans almost a year. The journal is an emotionally packed reflection on the life of the head chef at NOMA on a day to day basis. Redzepi says that shortly after his restaurant was crowned the world’s best restaurant, he felt more restricted. “An 85 to 90 hour work week? Who would want to do that if you aren’t enjoying it?”, he asks. The journal was a way to reflect on his relationship with his restaurant and to the process of creating in general. Redzepi claims the results were massively influential in how he makes decisions regarding his restaurant today.

René Redzepi

 

All of this self exploration from committing to the journal for a year put Redzepi back on track creatively. Below is a moment a friend of mine managed to capture during the segment from the talk in which Redzepi describes the many hours he and his team put into figuring out how to make goat brains taste delicious. After this, the famous ants at NOMA did not seem so exotic.

As you can probably tell by now, Redzepi is truly unafraid when it comes to pushing the boundaries. Constantly questioning conventions, the NOMA head chef is always developing his understanding of our relationship with food. Perhaps my favourite part of the day was Redzepi’s recounting of the story behind his decision to put ants on his menu. Redzepi says that it was Alex Atala, the chef/owner of D.O.M who planted the idea of eating insects in his mind and it was only after a while of deliberation did Rezepi finally decide to take the plunge and introduce ants to the menu. In an excited state, Redzepi decided to call up Atala and inform him that he had joined his exclusive club of chefs who have ants on their menu. According to Redzepi, Atala’s reaction was “REALLY?!, I don’t have ants on my menu!”.

René Redzepi

 

The brilliant food aside, Redzepi’s A work in progress has more universal messages about life than I had initially expected. As someone who studied economics, I would describe A work in progress as a man really getting to understand himself. As economists everywhere know, without knowing your preferences, making yourself the happiest you can be is a shot in the dark. In the midst of studying economics years ago, it became clear that discovering my preferences (what most call “finding themselves”) was massively important to my hopes of making myself as happy as possible. I think that I had partially forgotten this in recent months however, hearing Redzepi speak about the importance of understanding what makes you happy or sad reminded me in an emphatic way.

Maybe I’ll start a journal.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Chili Revisited

I’ve been MIA for the past month but I hope you are as glad as I am about being back. A friend of mine recently asked me how to make chili which is understandable as it is the perfect time of year for this delicious classic. Growing up in a Vietnamese household, the dishes we had to warm us up during fall were Vietnamese classics such as Phở. My first real memory of chili was in my first year of university where I had a can of Stagg Chili at around 2.30 in the morning while I tried to finish my philosophy assignment. In my experience, standards always drop shortly after midnight…

Chilli

 

Last winter I wrote about some chili I made. At the time however, I was living in a place with a closet for a kitchen. This time I decided to pull out all of the stops. First off, I had to decide on the protein. Usually, chili that I have had in the past used ground beef and kidney beans. I imagine the reason for the kidney beans was provide that smooth melt in your mouth tenderness of a mouthfeel. I however, opted to go with a purer beef chili. I was still able to achieve a luxurious texture by using a beef shoulder which falls apart after a long braise. First however, was imparting an extra dimension to the flavour of the chili by barbecuing all of the ingredients. As you can see below, I grilled some tomato, onion, and poblano peppers. Roasting these veggies really intensified their flavour while also adding a bit of a smokey element. I also grilled the shoulder for good measure. I just got the skin of all of the vegetables nice and charred before I let them cool and removed all of their first layers (carcinogens don’t taste great not to mention the whole giving you cancer thing). It is also a good idea to roast some garlic in some tin foil at 350 degrees for a half an hour. I chose to go with a whole bulb of garlic for my chili. After all, I was using nearly 2 kilos of beef.

Another option is to stick a bit of star anise inside the onions prior to the grilling. As a mentioned in my post about Pho (which you can find here), cooking onions and star anise together create sulphurous compounds that amplify the taste of proteins. I highly suggest giving it a try however, it would not be the end of the world if you didn’t.

Chilli

 

After removing all of the skin, I finely dice the vegetables and throw it all into a cold pot with the roasted garlic and some spices. I like to use coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika all in equal proportions. Just remember that you can always add more but you can never take away. That being said, I do find it important to get it right the first time as toasting the spices with the diced vegetables really intensify the flavours. After the bottom of the pot is completely covered with spices that are stuck, deglaze the pan with a healthy amount of Worcestershire sauce. I like to use what many would consider copious amounts but I find that the umami affect of Worcestershire sauce would be missed if not enough is added. For the 2kgs of beef I used about 200mL to deglaze the pot. I then added the seared beef to the pot as well as a litre of beer. I chose to go with Mill Street’s Cobblestone Stout as it is extremely rich and full bodied which I felt would add to the depth of the chili as well as aiding the development of a wonderful deep red colour. The stout also has smokey elements as well as a hint of cocoa which I absolutely adore in chili. I cover the pot and let simmer for about an hour and a half per kilogram. In this case, it meant nearly 3 hours. I then hand tore the shoulder apart and put it back into the chili to coat. What I was left with was a wonderful and luxurious texture as well as a complex and rich flavour.

Chilli

 

After taking the chili off the heat I like to stir in some unsweetened 90% dark chocolate to taste. I really like finishing my chili with a generous portion of sour cream, spring onion, fresh chili, and chopped cilantro leaves. The homemade baguette provides that crunch you want when eating something as luxurious as this chili. To me, this is what warmth tastes like.

Tagged , , , , , , ,