On the main stage, at the products fair, and in the workshops, it was as if all the top chefs were in cahoots at the 9th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress. All buzzed about these seven cooking movements:
- Nordic Influences
Here’s a more in-depth rundown:
Fermentation: With the push toward an authentic kitchen, it’s no surprise that this ancient, natural way of preserving food has become a focus. James Mark of north in Providence, R.I. called fermentation “the next big thing,” as it gives chefs the ability to prolong a season with items you can’t buy off a shelf. Robert Phalen of One Eared Stag in Atlanta, Ga. seconded that, saying he dry ages all his poultry and will even age hard-boiled eggs. He’s also into fermenting lemons. Yoshihiro Narisawa of Tokyo’s Narisawa says Japanese food has always relied on fermentation, and, in fact, he’s been known to feature dessert made of fermented rice on his menu. For Narisawa, the story is about the sustainability of the natural environment.
Foraging: The “wild” beckons with chefs heading into their foliage-filled backyards in search of sorrel, seaweed, mushrooms, herbs, and edible flowers. According to New York’s Red Rooster Chef Marcus Samuelsson, there’s been a spiritual shift in the compass of how and why we eat: to get to a food’s true source, and to create an honest plate. He spoke about foraging as a way of life in Scandinavia where he grew up cooking alongside his Swedish grandmother and where old traditions are tied to using the land to get food on the table. For Melissa Denmark of Rhode Island’s Gracie’s, foraging was the inspiration behind her bite-sized pastry juniper pavlova with hojicha chocolate pudding, autumn olives, toasted almonds, and honey. “There’s definitely a shift towards foraging what’s in season, in this case the juniper berries, and incorporating other elements to create a dish,” she said.
Pickling: The Mother Goose rhyme, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” might have described the answers many chefs gave for their current obsession with pickling. Michael Chernow of New York’s Meatball Shop says he’s into pickling winter squash, while playing with pickled plums and okra is on George Mendes of New York’s Aldea, list. Brian Dunsmoor of the soon-to-be-opened Hatchet Hall in Los Angeles says pickling is a Southern tradition that’s been going on for years. “Now,” he says, “I guess it’s trendy.”
Nordic Influences: “New Nordic” doesn’t only sound good as it rolls off the tongue, this style of cuisine is capturing chefs around the world. The irony: New Nordic is actually based on old tradition. And tradition, says Gunnar Karl Gíslason of Reykjavík, Iceland’s Dill, is what is used as a “creative catalyst” for new dishes. Yes, Gíslason works with ingredients you might expect like dried fish, but he also uses things like -- get ready -- salted and dried Icelandic horse (yes, horse!). Other popular Nordic ingredients: berries and vegetables, and Gíslason says, they “pickle their asses off” during the summer so they can remain true to indigenous products. If you keep an ear out for the phrase “New Nordic,” don’t be shocked if you hear pickling, fermentation, and foraging in the same sentence – these traditions are at the heart of any such kitchen.
Peruvian: Pick a quinoa, any quinoa. Red Bank, N.J.’s Marita Lynn of Runa Peruvian Cuisine talked about the 3,000 types that exist in Peru (white, yellow, pink, red, gray and black are a few) and the many dishes they can go in – chicken, olives, fried fish, peppers, and stews. White quinoa has no flavor and can even be the main ingredient in desserts like quinoa brownies. Jaime Pesaque of Mayta and Diego Muñoz of Astrid & Gastón spoke about “The New Peruvian Frontier” emphasizing the country’s humble ingredients like chiles, potatoes and cuy (guinea pig). Both talked about using Leche de Tigre (“tiger's milk”). This citrus-based marinade usually contains lime juice, sliced onion, chiles, salt, and pepper along with a bit of fish juice. Other star Peruvian ingredients: ichu (dried grass from the Puna grasslands), aja panca chili paste, huacatay leaf (similar to mint), and chicha de jora (fermented corn liquor). Read more about the Peruvian influence here (reference to additional post).
Vinegars: Mark of Providence’s north is just one of the many chefs who said he’s “playing around” with vinegars. Brad Smoliak of Edmonton, Canada’s Kitchen by Brad, says his obsession at the moment is mustard vinegar though he’s also a big fan of experimenting with fruits, in particular rhubarb. Long the unsung hero in many sauces, vinegar is being used now in dishes from meat to fish and even desserts and beverages. Sherry vinegar, says César Saldaña of the Regulating Council D.O. Sherry, was the stepchild of many prestigious winemakers who never wanted to admit they also made vinegar. Katie Button of Asheville, N.C.’s Curate shared her recipe for Mariscos en Escabeche, a seafood dish which calls mussels, clams and scallops and the good stuff – Reserva sherry vinegar.
Local: Integrity in sourcing is at the heart of what many chefs subscribe to, and that means knowing their local farmer and supplier. It’s not a new trend per say, but a movement that continues to gain strength as chefs take this category even deeper by building on the methods of old-style farm cooking. No one displayed this more than Diego Muñoz of Astrid & Gastón of Lima who brought to the stage a Peruvian farmer with his bag of potato varietals and explained how using – and improving on – the traditions of farmers who have had longtime direct relationships with food helps empower the gastronomic movement. Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns took that a step further, explaining to the audience the importance of companies like Washington State’s Bread Lab (thebreadlab.org), whose mission is grain breeding using scientific and innovative approaches to mold new – and healthier – versions of breads using regionally available grains.