How sous vide cooking is changing the game for some chefs

Sous vide egg bites; Photo courtesy of Starbucks

By Karen Weisberg

For Bruno Goussault, widely recognized as the founder of modern sous vide, 2017 was a good year. In February, Starbucks put its Sous Vide Egg Bites on the menu, highlighting the means of preparation on menu boards, an indicator that the terminology had gone mainstream. Then, in September, Goussault was named one of the world’s 100 greatest thinkers, artists, scientists, business leaders and visionaries when he was nominated to Genius: 100 Visions of the Future, a celebration of Albert Einstein’s accomplishments inspiring the next generation.

With a master’s in food technology and a doctorate in economics, Goussault has focused on food technology in pioneering the development of the sous vide cooking methodology since 1974. In 1991 in Paris, he founded Culinary Research & Education Academy to train chefs around the world in this precise time/temperature cooking technique.

More than two decades ago, Goussault founded and is chief scientist of Cuisine Solutions, with U.S. headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. He has helped design six sous vide manufacturing facilities in the U.S., France, Chile, Brazil and Norway, and also oversees the processes, methods and parameters of production.

In 1971, Goussault developed sous vide as a way to improve the tenderness of roast beef. “I discovered that if the beef was vacuum-sealed in a specially designed pouch and slowly cooked at a slightly lower than usual temperature, it showed little sign of profit-robbing shrinkage compared to conventional cooking methods,” he says. “Plus, the flavor was notably enhanced.”

Today, more than four decades later, Goussault is newly excited about cryoconcentration—reducing by freezing—that is said by some aficionados to be a new frontier in food science with the potential to open up a whole new world of flavors.

Reducing by freezing reportedly eliminates changes in flavor and consistency caused by reducing heat. Goussault says cryoconcentration is, in fact, an old technique that he was using in 1970 to reduce liquid when freeze-drying orange juice and coffee. “But what is new is extraction—using the sous vide method with specific technology to extract flavor from the trimmings of vegetables and fruit,” he says. “There’s more flavor in the trimmings that are typically discarded.

As the first woman in the U.S. to win two Michelin stars, chef Dominique Crenn has been hard at work honing her craft since her arrival in San Francisco from Paris in 1988. Indeed, her training has mostly been on the job, because she earned her baccalaureate in France with a focus on politics and business. She opened Atelier Crenn in 2011, and, more recently, Petit Crenn, a bistro, both in San Francisco.

From descriptions of Crenn’s cooking—light, adventurous, with unexpected bursts of flavor—it sounds as though sous vide might play a role in her kitchen. In fact, she says, it did at one time.

“I could use sous vide to make egg jam—I put eggs in the circulator to get the texture I wanted. If I did anything hollandaise, I’d use sous vide to kind of stabilize the content of the eggs for the right texture and consistency.”

A dedicated proponent of the slow food movement, Justin Carlisle—who grew up on a small beef farm in rural Wisconsin—opened Ardent in Milwaukee in 2013. It was named the James Beard Foundation’s 2014 Best New Restaurant.

In 23-seat Ardent, Carlisle offers a 10-course menu plus seven snacks. He figures he serves about 36 guests each evening in the 900-square-foot space. With nine employees in tight quarters, he says, “The thermo circulators are the line cooks, cooking proteins and vegetables to the precise temperature we want them done.

Over the years, Carlisle’s recipe for fermented pork with greens and cherry miso has become iconic. But, he warns, if you cure protein ahead, be aware that the pressure will still be curing it. “You must wash it thoroughly and be careful of long-term cook times, because that would produce a hammy texture and flavor.”

Carlisle’s tip for sous vide neophytes is to read, learn and know temperatures, time and textures.

And, as Goussault says, “Respect the technology. You need to have fresh product to start, always decrease the temperature before you vacuum-pack the product and be sure to follow regulatory guidelines.”

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Read more about how sous vide cooking is changing how chefs cook in the April 2017 issue of the National Culinary Review.

New York-based, award-winning journalist Karen Weisberg has covered the issues and luminaries of the food-and-beverage world — both commercial and noncommercial — for more than 25 years.