This fall Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts hosted a three-day sous-vide cooking workshop with none other than the father of sous-vide himself, Dr. Bruno Goussault. Goussault pioneered the slow, vacuum-sealed cooking method in the 1970s rendering ultra tender, intensely flavorful cuisine. Today he instructs world-renowned chefs (think Thomas Keller) in his precise, proprietary method. Chefs and elite home cooks traveled from as far as Hawaii to attend the workshop. Our own Chef Instructor Bob Scherner had the opportunity to play student for a change and learn from the master. Here he tells us about the experience.
Escoffier: Why did you want to learn to cook sous-vide?
Scherner: Well, I didn’t know a lot about it. From an educational standpoint, it is cool to learn. From a molecular and cellular level, you really understand what food is made up of and what heat and pressure are doing to the food.
Escoffier: Prior to the workshop, what were your thoughts on sous-vide cooking? Did you have any previous experience with the cooking method?
Scherner: I was brought up in this biz as being pretty traditional. And, quite frankly, I was a little skeptical in the beginning. My biggest thing was safety and sanitation, but Dr. G really helped me understand what was happening in the cooking process from a temperature standpoint and how it was safe. When I was at [Charlie] Trotter’s in Chicago we experimented with “caveman sous-vide” with baggies – beets, butter, thyme, and chicken stock in a bag. I really kind of left it there and didn’t really go further.
Escoffier: Without disclosing specifics (all students sign a non-disclosure agreement, barring sharing Dr. Goussault’s proprietary methods), can you tell us a bit about what you learned in the workshop?
Scherner: There were some total aha moments for me. First of all, how precise it has to be. It can’t be a degree or two off; it has to be precise. The other thing is the pressure. [Sous-vide] is all based on temperature and pressure. Specific foods at a specific temperature will change based on the [amount of] pressure they are under. Seafood is a good example. We cooked fish with less pressure on it than meat because it has far less connective tissue and it cooks more quickly than meat.
Escoffier: Can you incorporate sous-vide in your culinary arts lessons?
Scherner: I can see teaching it in broad strokes, sharing the theories behind it. [Sous-vide] should be presented as something that could be done down the road, but students need to get the [culinary] basics down first. Not only will the sous-vide be easier for you [once you understand basic cooking methods], you’ll be able to understand it better, too.
Escoffier: Any findings that can be applied to traditional cooking methods?
Scherner: It was a good reminder that ingredients are everything. If you don’t have great ingredients, you are already at a disadvantage, which fits into the farm-to-table [approach] really, really well. Pigment, minerals, vitamins – all that stuff isn’t going anywhere. When you boil a potato, you pour a lot of that down the drain. When you cook sous-vide, it all stays in there. For me that is incredible tasty food because you are not losing anything. For example, we made beets with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt, sliced really thin, and cooked [sous-vide] for about an hour. It was the best beet I have ever had because all of those flavors stayed put.
Escoffier: How did it feel to be the student?
Scherner: It was a crazy few days. After being on the teaching end of students for the past two years, being in the student position was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. It was a cool, unexpected part of it. I went back into class a little bit humbled, knowing that it is a little bit hard. It is a hard thing to learn sous-vide or traditional methods. I know how my students feel. It was challenging and a lot of fun.