December 20th, 2013

Texas BBQ

Posted in About Allison, food tours, New Foods and Flavors, Pork, Recipes, Restaurants, Trends

With all the talk about Franklin’s BBQ in the national news, Austin is quickly becoming the new BBQ capital of Texas. Sound a little premature? When Lockhart was declared the official Barbecue Capital of Texas during the 1999 House regular session, the little town of 12,000 seemed untouchable. And Lockhart is still famous from coast to coast for its BBQ, with visitors topping 250,000 per year. So it seems a little bold to proclaim Austin the New BBQ Capital, right?

Before we backup our assertion about Austin’s place in Texas BBQ, a little about the 4 distinct styles of Texas BBQ:

1 – East Texas BBQ: typical Southern BBQ (chopped meat, predominantly hickory smoke in a sweet tomato BBQ)

2 – Central Texas BBQ: “meat market style” (the meat is dry rubbed and cooked over pecan or oak, sauce is thinner and served on the side, served sliced on a tray with sides and condiments)

3 – West Texas BBQ: “Cowboy Style” with mesquite wood an direct fire

4 – South Texas BBQ: BBQ sauces made with molasses, barbacoa and cabrito

East and Central Texas styles represent the most widely known types of BBQ nationally, with West and South Texas enjoying more recognition at the regional level.

So is it even possible to knock Lockhart off the top of the chart? To understand just what the Austin BBQ scene is up against, let’s look at the 4 BBQ joints that made Lockhart famous:

Blacks Barbecue: opened in 1932, Blacks is the longest running Texas Barbecue restaurant to be owned by the same family. They offer lean and fatty brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, turkey and chicken. Their brisket is their number one claim to fame, and they are consistently on the “Texas Monthly Top 50 Texas BBQ” list. Look for the opening of Terry Black Barbecue here in Austin in early 2014. Mark and Mike Black will be bringing authentic pit smoked BBQ to Barton Springs Road. Oh yeah, and this was cause for a family dispute:

Kreuz Market: (pronounced “Krites” Market) opened in 1900 and changed hands in 1948, and then again in 1984. They have a ‘no sauce’ policy, as they feel it covers up the flavor of their meat. They serve fatty brisket, lean beef clod, beef ribs, and prime rib, sausage, turkey, pork chops, pork ribs, and pit hams. They sold their original location in Lockhart due to a family dispute, and moved to a different location outside of town. They are a current “Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ winner”.

Chisholm Trail Barbecue: a lesser-known and less established BBQ joint that opened in 1978. They have a cafeteria-style line and brisket, ribs, turkey, chicken, and sausage.

Smitty’s Market: Owned by one of the members of the same family that runs Kreuz Market, they took over the building that Kreuz had been in since 1900 They serve brisket, beef shoulder, pork chops, pork ribs, prime rib, and sausage. They were last in the “TMT 50 BBQ” list in 2008.

So let’s talk about Austin BBQ: it is making a gigantic splash on the National BBQ scene. The current grand champion of BBQ in Texas and the US, Aaron Franklin’s brisket is no joke. But when you look at the impressive list put out every 5 years by Texas Monthly (May 2013) you cannot help but notice: 5 of the Top 50 are right here in Austin. That is to say a full 10% of the list is devoted to the BBQ of Austin. Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio can only boast 2 BBQ joints each, and they are all bigger markets than Austin.

So let’s take a look at what makes Austin, TX BBQ so special:

Franklin’s BBQ (pitmaster: Aaron Franklin): His BBQ brisket is so good, that Bon Appetit named it the best BBQ in the country for 2011. After that, well, the rest is history. Then this year, Texas Monthly gave it the top rating as well (5.0). Considered the new king of BBQ, Mr. Franklin has confirmed expansion of his establishment, with the addition of a full-blown smokehouse. His espresso BBQ sauce can be found at local grocer HEB here in Austin. Fans of his BBQ rejoice: you may not have to wait 4 hours ever again, once the smokehouse is built…or maybe you will…… Rating: 5.0

John Mueller Meat Co (pitmaster: John Mueller): Ironically, Aaron Franklin got his start with BBQ under the tutelage of John Mueller. Mueller, of the Taylor Muellers (Louie Mueller BBQ of Taylor is in the Top 4), is infamous for his rather unconventional lifestyle, and recently opened John Mueller Meat Co, after a disagreement with his sister. (She reopened their former joint venture as the newly renamed La Barbecue). Best thing on the menu? Beef ribs and fatty brisket. Rating: 4.5

La Barbecue (pitmaster: John Lewis): owned by LeAnn Mueller, the joint gets its name from an abbreviation of her first name. She hired John Lewis, who worked previously at Franklin’s to helm the pit after a spat resulted in John Mueller’s exodus. Lewis uses a mixture of pickle juice and yellow mustard for his wet rub for better flavor penetration. Rating: 4.5

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (pitmaster: Zach Davis): its claim of “Fancy Barbecue” may leave you with a little concern, but the upscale environment does not detract from the interesting combinations of meat. Pork ribs with fennel and coriander, yep. Achiote and Lime chicken, sure thing. Although cooking with a gas-fired smoker is not BBQ in the most traditional sense, they still receive high marks from Texas Monthly. Rating: 4.25

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (pitmaster: Lance Kirkpatrick): Lance got his start under Bobby Mueller of Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor (those Mueller’s hold a lot of influence) and opened Stiles Switch with the backing of Shane Stiles. Again the specialty here is brisket and beef ribs.

So if you were to say who is the most influential BBQ family in Austin and the surrounding towns, it would be the Mueller family. Whether they are working the pit, or teaching the next generation of BBQ genius, they are the family we all need to watch.

In late November, I started to hear buzz on the internet: a lot of buzz. A place called Kerlins BBQ, off the 1700 block of Cesar Chavez on the East side, was getting rave reviews about its brisket, pulled pork and pork ribs. Located right next to Vera Cruz All Natural, and owned by Bill Kerlin, and his wife Amelis Paz-Kerlin, the setup includes a separate smoker trailer, a serving trailer, several picnic benches, and games while you wait. With nearly 2 decades of restaurant experience between the co-owners, the truck started out like many do: cooking really good BBQ for friends.

From there Mr. Kerlin entered his very first BBQ competition in Wimberley, TX. With a smoker made from a 55-gallon drum and another $50.00 smoker that he borrowed from a friend, his team garnered the sympathy of the neighbor who lent them a string of lights for their BBQ setup. That may have been a mistake, as Mr. Kerlin’s team took 1st in pulled pork, 1st in chicken, and an overall grand champion. A rookie earning the G.C. is something rarely seen on the BBQ circuit. Then a call to come to the American Royal Invitation 2013 would have to wait: there was a food truck to tend.

Ascribing to the same “serving until sold out” mantra common among other “meat market” style places, I knew I had to show up early if I was going to sample the good eats. I was there by 11:30 and all the desserts were already gone. I would need to come back another day to sample the pumpkin flan and banana pudding (all desserts are made by Amelis). Everything is made at Kerlin’s except of the sausage, but don’t worry, there are plans in the works to update the equipment and start making their own.

Do you see that? That’s some seriously delicious brisket. The fat rendered perfectly was reminiscent of bacon with a nice 1/4 “ smoke ring. The Kerlins use pecan wood where others use post oak, and you can taste the difference.

The pork shoulder is slightly smoky, slightly sweet with tons of moisture from the fat. The ribs with a brown sugar and molasses rub were fall off the bone tender with a hint of pepper on the finish. Sausage from Smokey Denmark down the street, is tasty, but it does not have the signature flavor of the others house meats. House-made pickles are large cut, tangy and slightly salty with a small amount of heat. Blue cheese coleslaw is proper ratio of slaw to dressing with real blue cheese notes. It’s a little unconventional, but pairs well with the brisket, and pork shoulder.

So are you hungry?? I know I am!

December 9th, 2013

World of Flavors 2013

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, Culinary Conferences, Food Shows, New Foods and Flavors, Trends

We arrived at the World of Flavors this year, to the yellowing vines of the vineyards. With the conference two weeks later than the year before, the harvest was over and the estates were bare of fruit. The valley was quiet, missing was the bustle of the grape gathering and the energy of the farmers.

This year’s theme is “Kitchens Connected”. Whether you are looking at how a chef is connected to his kitchen, the landscape around him, or the rest of the world via social media, the importance of our connection to those around us is so important.

Day 1:

Nathan Myrhvold of Modernist Cuisine gave the opening speech at the conference. He talked about why we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things (apparently including adding salt to the wine that Gina Gallo donated).

This was followed by commentary from Claus Meyer, founder of Noma, a self-ascribed fat kid growing up, with a father who demanded excellence to the point of being obsessive. Among his most proud accomplishments is his prison program, where he mentors prisoners with a desire to become a chef. He has also opened a cooking school in Bolivia with the aim of allowing marginalized families to rise from poverty while at the same time create a New Bolivian Cuisine. You can read more here:

Later we would hear from Edward Lee on the evolution of Southern Cuisine, and how it sometimes takes an outsider to rethink a classic. His recipe for Southern fried chicken is a study in the fusion of Adobo chicken with the Southern classic. A partial poach in an adobo broth (with vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, garlic, and bay leaves) is followed by a buttermilk and flour dredging, and a brief rest. Since the chicken is already partially cooked, the chicken only takes 5-6 minutes to cook compared to regular fried chicken, which typically takes 15 minutes to fry. The pre-poach serves as a timesaver in the restaurant as well, guaranteeing fresh chicken is sent to the table every time.

At the World Marketplace, the French onion soup at Maxime Bilet’s booth was the showstopper, and one of the only booths with a long line. Simple really, the soup had the purest, most intense onion flavor, and was complemented with micro-root vegetables such as leek, red onion, and carrot. One can only assume that his secret is the pressure cooker that he swears is the world’s most underutilized timesaver. The broth was so flavorful it left me wanting more than just a small taste.

Christopher Kostow, The chef at The Inn at Meadowood showcased his take on the rutabaga. It is cooked in a crust of salt, egg whites, and the volcanic ash common to the area around the restaurant. To serve, the crust is broken open and a lovely golden red rutabaga emerges, slightly salty, definitely earthy, but very delicious.

My favorite dessert of the night was the apricot dolma at the Chobani booth. It was a sweet take on the traditional dolma. Apricots rehydrated in sugar syrup are stuffed with a Chobani yogurt and mascarpone blend then dusted with pistachios. It was a nice refreshing dessert that was super light, and on the healthy side.

Day 2:

The day started with a general session that discussed the place for French cuisine at the millennial table.

Chef Masayasu Yonemura showed us several interesting Japanese foods, including O-Fu (dried wheat gluten) that has been rehydrated in milk-egg-honey-5 spice powder mixture. It was then pan-fried like French toast and spread with a black truffle and port wine reduction. He finishes it with griddled foie gras medallions, Japanese greens mixed with tofu and tahini, and a carrot-leek fond de veau.

Sang-Hoon Degeimbre of L’Air Du Temps in Belgium jokes that the first time he ever cooked was the day that he opened his restaurant. Two years later, he received his first Michelin star, and the second one in 2007. He showed us recipe for earthy potato “humus”. He distilled the essence of the dirt from the fields his restaurant as part of the dish. Tourneed potatoes cooked in salt brine are finished with soil water and dehydrated potato skin powder. He cooks from emotion and is drawn to root vegetables because of his recent return to his own roots in Korea.

Alex Gauthier, chef at La Grenouillere shows us that food should be emotional, and in his sorrel ice cream dessert, he evokes the stronger emotion of anger. The sorrel ice cream is used to fill a clear sugar orb. The plate features grilled sorrel leaves, and sorrel oil. Once the plate is set in front of the customer, the server smashes the sugar orb of green sorrel ice cream onto the plate, surprising the diner. His approach to food has breathed life back into French cuisine with his fun and inventive ideas. He has definitely found the formula for appealing to millennials.

My first seminar was on sous vide. It was a rather interesting seminar, which started with a Japanese-American hybrid dish. Shinobu Namae prepared a beef dish hat was marinated with Shio-Koji. Shio-Koji contains koji, a bacteria that is essential to sake-making. The bacteria Aspergillus Oryzae produces several enzymes that break down the rice into glucose. These same enzymes work on the protein in meat to tenderize it. The salt added to the Shio-koji inhibits the growth of unwanted organisms. Shio-koji is very high in umami, and can replace up to 50% of the salt in a recipe without compromising flavor. Chef Namae cooked the Shio-Koji marinated sirloin in sous vide at 52C until the internal temperature equalized. He then grilled the beef between sheets of cedar wood. The beef was served with persimmon and turnip dressed in a tofu dressing.

Cesar Vega gave an interesting talk on how to consistently sous vide eggs. After thousands and thousands of eggs were cooked sous vide he was able to conclude that a mixture of time and temperature can give a specific result. For example, if you want eggs yolks the consistency of honey, you could cook at 60C for 300 minutes or at 63C for 100 minutes and achieve the same result. These temperatures take into account the proper temperature calibration, as the incorrect temperature can skew the results. See the link for a graphical representation:

At the general session, we heard from Jared Rivera, founder of Chef’s feed. It’s a rather useful app to chefs. It shows restaurant recommendations from some of the world’s best chefs. The Chefs Feed Network on YouTube showcases hours of video footage from the kitchens of the U.S. brightest chefs as well as instructional videos on their favorite foods. There was some thought provoking discussion during this session regarding social media and its impact on a restaurant. The average millennial wants a restaurant connection, not just a meal. They want to feel as if they play some part in the success of your brand. They don’t want your marketing intern to do your tweets, and they can tell the difference. After all, one of the most important things to the millennial generation is authenticity.

The afternoon session brought us the food of Josep Roca of El Celler de Can Roca. The restaurant was named the #1 restaurant in the world for 2013 by Restaurant Magazine. He showed us several interesting techniques, including direct smoking, which is a technique he uses for squid parmentier. Throughout the entire presentation, the one common thread was the love of family. His close family ties are so apparent; in how he lovingly talks of his mother and her food, and how talks so fondly of the relationship with his brothers. Here the connection to the family is the sole reason that the food has become the best in the world.

Here is a picture of them serving their parents “The World”:

In my kitchen workshop with Virgilio Martinez we sampled interesting foods from Peru, including chunos, a form a freeze-dried potatoes. We also had tiger’s blood: a puree of Aji peppers, algae broth, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and lime juice in several different presentations, including fish ceviche and root vegetable ceviche.

We tried kaniwah, which is a smaller cousin to quinoa. The seeds are about ½ the size of regular quinoa, but stay rather crunchy.

The highlights of the world marketplace for Friday included the smoked potatoes with black garlic vinaigrette and fermented ramp mayonnaise from Bar Tartine. They were one of my favorite foods at the entire conference.

Then I had the wild seaweeds braised with Dungeness crab from Lummi Island chef Blaine Wetzel, the very essence of the sea in a steaming bowl. The crab flavor was intensely flavored, yet softened by the briny saltiness of the seaweed.

The beet-cured salmon with pea cake and sweet honey sauce is almost too beautiful to eat, taking on a brilliant cranberry color from the beets.

Day 3:

My morning session was with Andre Chiang and Jesus Nunez on the topic “Hybrid Inspirations and Unique Culinary Philosophies: Dazzling Diners From Spain To Singapore”. The chefs talked about from where they draw their inspirations.

Andre Chiang’s Octaphilosophy consists of 8 elements that he feels are unchanging: Memory, Purity, Terroir, Uniqueness, South, Artisan, Salt and Texture. He incorporates at least 3 of these elements into each of his dishes. He is a master of making dishes that are not what they seem. His version of risotto uses squid cut into rice shapes then cooked in cauliflower puree and finished with shaved macadamia to resemble cheese. The dish has the consistency of risotto, yet is totally dairy free. He also makes rice crackers from dried cooked rice and charcoal powder, which he deep-fries to make crispy.

As far as Jesus Nunez inspiration, his comes literally from the design world. A former graffiti artist, he sees the beauty all around him. He draws inspiration from architecture, the art of the masters, the countryside, or wherever he finds beauty. The dish that he showed us was “Not Your Average Egg”, which included many elements of nature. The dish consists of a sweet potato puree with a “nest” of al dente spring vegetables. But what makes this dish so memorable is the “egg”. Sun choke that is cooked in methylcellulose then pureed is poured into an empty eggshell, and the egg yolk is added back in. Once the “egg” is baked, it is peeled and placed in the “nest”.

For a great representation of his work, you can view it here:ñez

During Saturday’s black box exercise, several powerhouse chefs took the stage to showcase their unique interpretations of the trends that were on the inspiration board at the conference.

For his black box exercise Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions chose eggs, quinoa, fermentation, and mushrooms. His restaurant was graced the “Best New Restaurant” award by the James Beard Foundation for 2013. He talked us through his process for salt-cured eggs, and it had me intrigued: 10 days covered in salt, then 20 days of air-drying, followed by a light smoking. The eggs are grated and have the consistency of cheese. He also shared his secret for taking quinoa to the next level: cook it in water, then fry it to make it super crunchy. His dish includes fermented turnips and wild mushrooms cooked in tons of butter.

The words that called to Elizabeth Falkner were: “deep space flavors”, “no foam”, “cooking from the inside out”. For her ingredients, she chose farro, burdock, Fresno chiles, jalapenos, bonito, dashi, squid ink, lemon zest, xanthan gum, bottarga, and soy for her ingredients. In her rebellious nature, she chose to use foam, stating that it can never really go out of style. For deep space flavors, she chose the bonito, dashi, lemon zest, and peppers for a complex “deep space” flavor profile. The most interesting part of her demo was where she used charcoal to cook squid from the inside out. Cleaned squid were cooked atop the hot coals of charcoal. You could literally see the squid cooking, contracting and steaming as it cooked. The effect was mesmerizing to the audience, and a really cool idea.

Kyle Connaughton merges new with old by marinating his cod in Saikyo Miso (a sweet miso made predominantly rice, also called Old West Coastal Miso) and yuzu kosho. He then grills it over binchotan charcoal and finishes it with charred uni, ginger buds, and shiso and wasabi buds:

Maxime Bilet used the terms “no foam” and scavenged ingredients to deconstruct his grandmothers pot au feu using sun choke, beef, and charred leeks:

After the black box session, we saw Hajime Kasuga of Ache in Lima Peru prepare an interesting twist on sushi. He is one of the premier Nikkei chefs in Peru. He fills a shrimp shell with cooked tapioca and pairs it with dehydrated scallops. The dish is accompanied by powdered shrimp shell, fish roe, and sliced lime sprinkled with chile powder:

As for tastings at the World Marketplace here are my favorites:

Dried Turnip Pasta: Christian Puglisi of Relae showed us an interesting way to prepare turnips. First they are dried in an oven, and then rehydrated by soaking for 2 hours. Once they are soaked, they are cut into juliennes and boiled in salted water and drained. A quick cook in a sauté pan with butter renders them pasta like, slightly al dente, but with the subtle flavor of the turnips. They are finished with chervil, horseradish, and mustard seeds. His way of cooking

Almond and Pistachio Keskul: another recipe from the Chobani folks. A keskul is a traditional Turkish almond pudding. It was finished with Turkish cotton candy, chopped pistachios, and pomegranate seeds.

The afternoon’s final general session before the closing ceremony featured a demo by the affable chef, Isaac McHale of The Clove Club in East London. He showed us a fried chicken recipe using pine salt that I had the luxury of tasting at the opening world marketplace on Thursday:

The closing address by Dr. Tim Ryan was one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking presentations of the entire conference. His parallels between the art, music, and culinary worlds was illuminating, with examples of how a simple change or addition can result in a giant leap forward in innovation. He asks us to pay attention to the clues and hints that surround us, opening our minds to the possibility of innovation.