Thomas Keller Talks Sous Vide

"We all love new toys," says Thomas Keller of sous vide.
"We all love new toys," says Thomas Keller of sous vide.

For avid foodies, the recent release of celebrated chef Thomas Keller’s book Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide is as exciting as the latest iPhone is for tech nerds. So when the American Institute of Wine and Food announced that Keller, owner of the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley and Per Se in New York, would be coming to DC’s Mandarin Oriental hotel to talk about the cookbook, industry professionals elbowed each other out of the way to get one of the hundred $95 tickets.

Last Friday, Keller was joined by protégé Eric Ziebold, currently the chef at CityZen, and coauthor Michael Ruhlman. The crowd, wedged into a small meeting room, included local culinary heavy hitters such as former 1789 chef Ris Lacoste, Michel Richard, and his Citronelle chef de cuisine, David Deshaies. Ingrid Bengis, Keller’s Maine-based lobster purveyor; Bruno Goussault, the Frenchman who is considered the father of sous vide; and Carol Blymire, who blogged her way through The French Laundry Cookbook were also there.

As Alexandria sous vide specialists Cuisine Solutions dished out short ribs that had been cooked for three days, Keller, Ziebold, and Ruhlman talked about the technique.

Keller on why sous vide is exciting: “For one, it’s a new toy and we all love new toys. And two, sous vide definitely goes beyond cooking in a bag. It’s used for precise, à la minute cooking. When you order a steak medium, that’s the temperature in the very center, but the outside is cooked well done and the next layer is medium-well, et cetera. But with sous vide, that piece of meat is medium from edge to edge. Before now, few people have had a short rib rare.”

And yet . . . Ziebold on the caveats of sous vide:
Sous vide takes craft away from cooking. You know it’ll be a perfect medium-rare every time. You don’t want to lose that emotional contact with food—like when you smell duck fat cooking, that does something for us.”

Keller on whether sous vide works for the home kitchen: “It’s not necessarily for the home cook yet. They can try to understand what sous vide is, but most of the applications in the book are industry-oriented. To incorporate sous vide into the home, chefs first have to embrace the technique so that home cooks become more familiar with it. I think we’ll start to see that soon.”

Ziebold on the CityZen menu and sous vide:
“Right now, we have turbot cooked sous vide and then brushed with preserved lemon. But we’ll never have everything cooked sous vide. Just like we wouldn’t have everything grilled—this isn’t the CityZen Grill.”

Ruhlman on what happens after one chef works under the tutelage of another for eight years: “Eric Ziebold is the offspring of Thomas Keller in every sense of the word besides the literal one.”


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