A Willy Wonka-like kitchen in Sterling aims to take us into the future of food.
Food Network and Top Chef addicts are sure to know what “sous vide” means. But for the uninitiated, it’s a cooking method that involves vacuum sealing meats or produce and cooking them slowly at low temperatures. Cuisine Solutions in Sterling has been at the forefront of the technique for decades—with its chief scientist, Dr. Bruno Goussault, generally credited with advancing the technique and its popularity with modern chefs. Goussault also founded Culinary Research and Education Academy (CREA) in France in 1991 in part to research how sous vide can go beyond making the perfect short rib.
CREA’s work continues today at Cuisine Solutions’ Sterling headquarters, where AJ Schaller serves as executive chef of CREA. Here, she gives us a peek into the world of cryoconcentration (a technique that involves freezing the product, removing the ice and using the concentrated liquid left behind), how it can combat food waste and its surprising applications for everyone from Michelin-starred chefs like Thomas Keller to home cooks like you.
What is cryoconcentration?
It essentially is the second step to sous vide, and it can help combat food waste. Bruno has been pioneering this technique and has been training top chefs like Thomas Keller, the team from Joël Robuchon and Daniel Boulud. It’s a great thing to apply to fine dining, but can also be incorporated in food manufacturing. We’re working toward that, always experimenting on techniques and flavors.
How is it used?
The possibilities are endless. One is helping to combat food waste. We have, of course, a lot of food waste at home. You peel a carrot and throw away the peel, but that’s where a lot of the flavor is. Now think of that on a much larger scale at a restaurant—but instead of throwing the peels away, you turn them into a really flavorful liquid. It’s really impressive what you can coax out of that with the sous vide process.
What else makes it desirable?
It can be very surprising the flavor you can get. You’re removing water—but instead of vapor, it’s ice crystals, because water is freezing at a higher temperature than the flavorful liquid that’s left behind. For example, if you have something with a lot of sugar in it, the water will freeze but the sugar won’t. We tried it with artichoke leaves, and you’d think the extraction and cryoconcentration of the leaves would be bitter, but it was lovely. It was very savory-sweet, and it tasted like drinking an artichoke. And it’s something that chefs normally throw away. Thomas Keller’s chefs took that liquid and turned it into a soup, and it was the best artichoke soup I’ve ever had in my life. We love when we discover stuff like that.
What’s one result that turned out great?
We have a machine in our kitchen called a Pacojet, and it basically takes a frozen solid product and spins it with a blade and blends it into sorbet. You can make anything into sorbet if it has a high enough brix level. When we’ve cryoconcentrated beet skins or tomato trimmings, the brix level is high enough to turn them into a really sweet sorbet. I think it’s really cool that you can take something that’s a trimming and turn it into a sorbet with no additives at all. You’d think that it was made by a pastry chef, but it’s just all-natural flavor coaxed out of the trimmings.
What do you think is important about your work?
If we look at the new training we have with extraction and cryoconcentration, the current climate in the food industry is combating food waste. That application is a perfect, amazing feature for this process. Also, it’s hard to find skilled labor, and it’s also hard to maintain a certain margin. Using sous vide as a tool to replace a lot of the long prep work or finding ways to apply our sous-vide-cooked products into your recipes is really helpful for growing businesses. We give you the base, and you can customize it however you want. Most of our products are simply seasoned, so we’re not replacing a chef, but we are replacing the need to work so many hours. The operator or chef using the simply seasoned product can customize it however they like.
Will sous vide become more popular with home cooks?
It already is. As a company, we’ve noticed with people staying home, people are posting photos on social media of cooking sous vide at home. I’d love to see people using sous vide for batch cooking and using that throughout the week. Most people at home will cook sous vide and take the product from the pouch and eat it right away. But actually, you can have a really nice, more enhanced flavor if you cook the food, leave it in the pouch and let it cool. It really fixes the flavor if you chill it properly and store it for a little while. I compare it to when you make a soup or stew, and if you allow it to chill it tastes better. But if you do that you have to make sure you chill properly. Let the pouch sit for a minute, put it in water and finish chilling it in ice water. That will help extend the safeness of it and the shelf life.