I wish to introduce Sean Brock, the chef at McCrady's Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. We first met Sean through this website. It began with questions which have only blossomed into more questions. Sean is driven in his quest for answers and his approach to ingredients and cooking in general. Our interaction and open forum with ideas has helped develop, refine and spark numerous breakthroughs in our cooking. Here Sean has shared a few pictures from his kitchen which capture his process. The rest of his conversation will come when technology permits it (computer problems). For now, check out these pictures and for a bit more on Sean and his world, his website.
by Sean Brock
First of all thank you to Aki and Alex for including us in their brilliant new ”idea”, Culinary Conversations.
We have for some time admired, been inspired by, and jealous of, what
Alex and Aki are able to produce on a daily basis. They are truly paving the way for the next generation of forward thinking chefs. Their generosity in sharing ideas is beyond conception, especially in the beginning stages of such an important time in gastronomy.
I was first introduced to Ideas in Food through a purveyor that we share, Mikuni Mushrooms. They were trying to sell me the now famous smoked steelehead roe from Steve Stallard and directed us to the Ideas in Food website. I have to be honest; since then I have checked their site nearly everyday. It is amazing how creative and passionate these two chefs are. Through their efforts we are constantly reminded of why we cook for a living. The constant pursuit of knowledge and excellence.
For example, every ingredient in our kitchen is put under a microscope. How do we serve the best tasting carrot ever? Common sense would say to buy it from a farmer who pulled it from the ground hours before it I served. But what we are trying to do is reevaluate the entire process from the ground to the plate. We try to think about every step in the cooking process before the costumer consumes it.
We first think about what we were taught in the early stages of our careers. Before service we were taught to clean the carrot, peel it, and blanch it in heavily salted water then shock it in an ice bath. We would then heat it a la minute in a little vegetable stock and glaze it with some butter. Delicious, but can we make it better?
What if we were able to make that energy source that most insanely flavored energy source available. What would that take? My first thought a couple of years ago were to use a carrot-flavored liquid to slowly cook the carrots in. Why use water when we could use carrot water? So we began to cook carrots sous vide in carrot juice. We reserved the liquid and heated the juice a la minute. When we reheated the carrots in their own liquid, we were essentially making carrot-glazed carrots. We became obsessed over discovering new techniques after we tasted the results. We began to use the left over pulp from the carrot juicing process to make a carrot powder using the dehydrator. In our minds we were taking the best carrot we could find and cooking it in a carrot flavored water, reducing that juice to a glace and adding butter to make carrot glazed carrots, we than garnished them with carrot powder. The result was a really intense carrot flavor. Again this wasn’t enough for us, as we are never satisfied or maybe it’s just the ADD. What if we took our carrot juice to a new level? What is we heated the carrot juice until the caratanoid separated from the water and all we were left with was 100 percent carrot and no water to dilute its flavor? We could scoop the separated caratanoid from the juice and emulsify it into fresh carrot juice. We have now begun to make the carrot juice taste better than it did in its original state. We then use this to cook fresh carrots sous vide and eventually make an intense carrot glaze. We then looked at the butter that was used to make the glaze. Why not use carrot butter? As you can see this process is endless. For us it is the constant pursuit of making the best tasting carrot ever. Now our next project is distilling carrot juice to use for our base liquid. Where does it end? Who cares, the idea is to look at things in a different way. We have also found that sometimes this isn’t necessary. Sometimes the ingredients are so unbelievable we leave them alone. But we still feel that it is important to ask those questions and seek the answers before we bin the idea.
Over the years we have realized that we can’t remember everything or every idea that enters our mind unless we write it down. We write everything down, no matter if it is during a busy service or having beers at the bar after a busy service. The process starts with notebooks that we keep in our pockets, we write everything down, no matter how ridiculous it is. When our notebooks are full and there are no pages left to write on, we enter them into a computer program. When we get a few pages we print them out and hang them on the wall. The ideas are always in front of us, they are now constant reminders of our random thoughts. We have now gone as far as using a highlighter to showcase the things we are most excited about and want to tackle first. Keeping in mind that the ideas that aren’t highlighted are not dead, just on the back burner. We may revisit them at any time.
The printed sheets of ideas are also designed to keep everyone in tune with where we are and what we are working on. We have a lot of cooks (19 or so) and it is tough to have everyone together at one time to discuss ideas. With this system a stranger could walk up to the wall and read an idea and begin to think about it.
We then have dry erase boards and chalk boards in the kitchen that are broken down into different categories. The first is a random idea board, hopefully inspired by our idea sheets that are hanging in the kitchen. Everyone is encouraged to contribute to this board (servers, dishwashers, guests, etc). When we get really excited about an idea it gets moved to the next board entitled “projects”. Once it makes it to the project board it is then looked at more closely. Each component of the dish is brainstormed and evaluated. We then start cooking our ideas and tasting them. Once everyone decides that it is a good dish we serve it to our guests. This sounds like a lot of work, but we as a team are convinced that the dishes we serve are as good as we can make them. Trying hard is everything. Thanks again to Aki and Alex.