Sous Vide…No Longer Trendy, Just Another Staple.

I subscribe to the magazine, Food Arts, because I was told by friends (chefs) in the biz that this was a good periodical showing trends in cooking techniques and equipment. It has articles on the up-and-coming chefs, as well as established well-known chefs, and the equipment and tools they use.

Since my business here is sous vide and vacuum packing, I thought I would go through some previous publications and articles which talk about different kitchen equipment and tools, and see if they mention sous vide equipment or if I notice any cool trends. Food Arts has a series of articles called, “My Favorite Gear.” I began with these articles.

Well, I found a lot chefs talking about sous vide, and the tools they use to accomplish cooking under vacuum. I went as far back as early 2008.

Shore Leave, March 2008. This article features Chef Ed Brown of Eighty One in NYC on the Upper West Side. The author writes about how the restaurant and the kitchen were designed, and mentions “predictable” cooking equipment the chef uses, and mentions sous vide as another technique he applies.

“…But he’s also committed to the slow gentle process of sous-vide cooking, which he has used since he worked with Alain Senderens in Paris in 1985. To that end, he has a large combi-oven that does regular, convection, and steam cooking or combinations of the three. Because the oven works on a computer, he can put, say, short ribs and aromatics into special food-grade bags, then program them to cook for 15 hours at 165°F. When it’s time to reheat the chilled ribs, they go into one of Yui’s innovations: an insulated sink with a cover in which you insert an immersion circulator, creating a built-in bain-marie.”

*Fusionchef offers combination units similar to this. Immersion circulators paired with different sizes of insulated stainless steel water baths.

A later article, My Favorite Gear, April 2008, mentions Chef Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar in Washington, DC. He talks about his time in France, “…When I worked in France, I did quite a lot of vacuum sealing, but it wasn’t until the machines got smaller that I started va­cuum sealing more here in the states. Now that I have this compact model, I vacuum seal all the time. When I travel to do events, I vacuum seal all my ingredients, which eliminates the need for bulky containers. It also saves me a ton of space in the walk-in, and it’s great for portioning out quantities for service. Vacuum sealing also helps to keep ingredients fresher longer, and it works great for certain cooking techniques like poaching fish in oil. It’s also just plain fun to use.”

*One of the best options for a small compact tabletop vacuum packer is the Henkelman Mini Jumbo.

The following year, Food Arts, published another article titled, “My Favorite Gear January/February 2009.” This time they quote Chef Frank Brunacci of Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. He begins to speak about the restaurant side of the hotel.

“On the restaurant side, I can’t live without the…Thermal Circulator. It’s like the Rational [combination oven]–every piece of protein comes out the same. It’s ideal for breakfast when you do scrambled or poached eggs on a buffet line. For three hours they stay perfectly cooked, perfectly heated, and perfectly moist and fluffy. It takes all the idiot out of eggs. You just can’t beat that. We’re open for service about 14 hours a day, and the circulator is probably on for 15 hours. With practice you can really use both of these pieces to their full advantage and come out with a perfect product every time.”

*Check out the work-horse immersion circulators by Fusionchef for cooking sous vide

In the same article they also quote Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of The French Laundry in Yountville, California. He talks about preparing to cook in the world-renowned culinary competition, Bocuse d’Or. The chef primarily speaks about his combination oven (convection/steam oven), how it holds perfect temperatures, and how he uses it on full steam to cook sous vide. “At the Bocuse d’Or, I’ll cook custard and sous-vide vegetables.”

It seems to me pretty telling that professional chefs value the sous vide technique enough to use at the Bocuse d’Or. They cook sous vide, because of the quality and attributes obtained with the end product.

*I will point out the Chef Timothy Hollingsworth won Gold at the US Bocuse d’Or in 2008.

In the following feature of the same article, Chef Tony Maws of Craigie On Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts is quoted speaking about his quick chiller, which allows him to bring hot products down to storing temperature in very little time, and how this has helped is kitchen operation. “Another great example is our duck breast. After we brine, render, sear, and smoke, we can now chill it in minutes to prepare it for sous-vide. The blast chiller saves us a half day for that dish alone.”

This very accomplished chef is not talking about sous vide the way I do, filled with “a-ha” moments. Sous vide is simply another technique, another part of his repertoire. Just the way you should probably cook duck breast…

In a separate article of Food Arts, In The Dark About Eco-Gear, from April 2009, the author speaks about the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and how this should affect the decisions we make when purchasing equipment, in this case kitchen equipment. A big factor to consider is, of course, energy consumption. He goes on to talk about hood systems and refrigeration, but gets to cooking equipment and talks about combination ovens, and how expensive they can be to always run in “full combi-mode”. He suggests using the sous vide method to save on energy. “Consider sous-vide methods in conjunction with other slow cooking processes to fully benefit from energy savings with combi-ovens.”

He goes on about why purchasing Energy Star rated equipment is beneficial even if the up-front cost is greater than the less efficient cheaper unit. What he doesn’t mention is the energy efficiency obtainable by cooking sous vide with an immersion circulator (see Fusionchef units at www.vacuum-packer.com), not to mention the incredible up-front cost difference in purchasing an immersion circulator versus a combination oven. Consider too the cost savings one obtains by purchasing in bulk and portioning in-house using a chamber vacuum packaging machine.

In another article, Arctic Arts, Science meets art on the new frontiers of freezing. Futurists David Arnold and Nils Norén, leaders of the kitchen and mixology vanguard, chart the icy terrain., the gentlemen talk about preserving the quality of products through the process of proper freezing – both freezing shortly after harvesting and in a very quick manner. As the title suggests, it pertains to freezing as the form of preservation and talks about fresh fish, foie gras and more.

They comment on the best processes to obtain and maintain foie gras, which on the preservation side includes rapid freezing and vacuum packaging. Of course, vacuum packaging helps in this regard with many products: fish, beef, lamb, duck, dry goods, and many many others…

*Check out the Jumbo Series of Henkelman Vacuum Packers.

In the article, My Favorite Gear, January/February 2010, Exec. Chef Martial Nougier of Sofitel Chicago Water Tower talks about his combination oven and how he just loves to cook sous vide, “I do a lot of sous-vide. It’s perfect for sous-vide. You use lots of steam, set it for 139 or 140, and the sous-vide is perfect for whatever I cook–rack of lamb, guinea hen, rabbit, duck, so many things. And we do everything for food and beverage.”

Another article, My Favorite Gear, January/February 2012, featured in Food Arts is written about a particular chef and kitchen, which the chef designed from scratch. He talks about the equipment he uses to keep the operation running smoothly.

In keeping with this theme, he talks about using circulators as a mainstay in his kitchen which feeds a major 150-room resort in North Carolina, The Umstead Hotel and Spa.

“We have at least three of these incredibly precise machines [immersion circulators] running constantly. I love to use our circulators for eggs, like for my crispy pork trotters with poached asparagus, glazed morel mushrooms, aged Sherry, and 62 degree organic local eggs. Eggs go in right in the shell; everything else is vacuum sealed first in our [vacuum packaging machine], which offers the most consistent vacuum, from heavy compression of fruits and vegetables to delicate mushrooms.
[Chef] Greene uses the circulators for vegetable cookery, rabbit confit, and his 48 hour short ribs. He has a dish on the menu now of vanilla spiced sea bass with fingerling potatoes, fennel confit, and lobster broth. The fennel is slowly cooked in vacuum with fennel juice, butter, salt, and herbs. We also use circulators to hold sauces at precise temperatures during service—for example, our coconut espuma served with butternut squash soup, curried apples, candied ginger, and macadamia nuts.”

Toward the end of 2012, Food Arts published another article from this series, My Favorite Gear, October 2012. This article quotes Charlie Palmer of Charlie Palmer Group, Aureole, New York City and numerous other restaurants coast to coast. While mentioning his range and plancha he says, “And there’s no doubt that circulators have changed the way we cook. I can cook items sous-vide without losing any of the tender fat and moisture. It’s how I cook anything braised or that requires moist heat now, especially short ribs and pork shoulder.”

In the next edition of the series released in 2013, My Favorite Gear, January/February 2013, the tools seem to have moved on from the actual immersion circulators and chamber vacuum packaging machines to the additional tools used to assist in the sous vide process.

In this article, Food Arts, speaks with restaurant designers and consultants rather than the chefs themselves. One in particular, Mark Stech-Novak, of Mark Stech-Novak Restaurant Consultation & Design in Oakland, California, suggests for small kitchens (tools that are well suited to the confines of a small kitchen instead of a big one) an iphone/ipad app for cooking sous vide.
“PolyScience Sous-Vide Toolbox app for iPad or iPhone: “Perhaps the coolest software for testing and proofing sous-vide cooking. No chef should be without it.”

So, if no chef should be without the sous vide app, it goes to reason that no chef should run their kitchen without taking advantage of the benefits derived from this special yet simple technique.

On another note, you certainly do not need a PolyScience unit to utilize the app. However, if record keeping for proofing, testing or for HAACP reasons is of interest, the only immersion circulator that records this data for you and can interact directly with your PC using a specific software comes from Fusionchef by Julabo. It is the Diamond Series of immersion circulators by Fusionchef.

I think it is pretty evident that sous vide is a technique which has proven over time to be very useful for any professional kitchen, big or small, fancy or not.

In the upper echelons of the culinary profession, these articles and comments by accomplished and successful chefs, seem to give the impression that the technique is quite familiar. I mean, it certainly is not something only practiced on the fringes of the culinary underground. However, being in the profession I am I still come across a lot of chefs and restaurateurs that are totally unfamiliar with sous vide, or that have never heard of the technique before.

So, while sous vide continues to set its roots and become part of the foundation in any operating kitchen, I will continue to spread the good word.

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