You had questions; Thomas Keller has the answers

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As part of our new Master Class series that we started last week, we offer you the chance to go to our Facebook page and ask questions directly to our featured chefs -- Thomas Keller, Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio and Sang Yoon. We got some good ones for Keller and his answers are in.

Mellette Hawksley-Smith: Chef Keller, what is your favorite method for reconstituting dried mushrooms?

Thomas Keller: Your approach to reconstituting mushrooms will depend on several factors: their size, variety and where they came from. Regardless, you want to soak them in warm water –- approximately 10 times the volume of the mushrooms. As they soak, agitate them gently to ensure that any dirt or sand drops off but take care not to stir up any debris that accumulates. Most importantly, in this and any technique where you clean something in water, be sure and carefully lift out the mushrooms before changing the water. If you pour the whole mix into a strainer then you’re just dumping the dirt back onto the mushrooms! Change the water until the mushrooms are tender and clean, typically it will take two to five changes though higher-quality dried mushrooms ought to be cleaner so you may need to rinse them less.

Jim Yocum had a couple of questions: Chef Keller -- Thank you for all of your inspiring work. In your book ‘Bouchon’ on page 212 for ‘Braised Beef with Red Wine’ lists three components that include garlic cloves (the red wine reduction, the potatoes and the carrots), all specify the number of garlic cloves followed by the words ‘skin left on, smashed.’ My question –- why did you specify (three times) to leave the skins on garlic cloves?


TK: That’s a great question. In professional kitchens we are always looking for ways to work more quickly and efficiently while achieving our goals as far as flavor and presentation. Peeling garlic can be very labor intensive so in these three applications, where garlic is being used as a flavoring agent but is discarded later, we smash the clove to release oils and break the skin but don’t waste any time peeling them completely. As for this specific recipe we mentioned it each time the technique was applicable and right there you can see a variety of situations where you can save yourself time and energy.

Jim Yocum: Sous-vide cooking (often) involves having food come in direct (pressured) contact with plastic and acid for an extended period of time. Years ago some were concerned about potential adverse effects of that combination. Is this still a concern, and if not, why not?

TK: As long as sous-vide has existed as a technique there have been concerns of this sort regarding the safety of plastic. We only work with certified food-safe plastics from manufacturing companies such as Koch, and I would encourage you to do the same. These companies have dedicated their significant expertise to designing and testing materials that are not only food safe but also offer the best performance.

Jocelyn McFaul: Chef Keller, is the professional sous-vide equipment or method of cooking in the process of getting NSF approval, so all commercial kitchens can use this wonderful cookery?

TK: The most common barrier to sous-vide techniques being used in professional kitchens are local health codes. We recognize the potential risk that is inherent in vacuum packaging but have also learned how to safely apply this technology in the kitchen. We’ve spent significant time working with local agencies to share our knowledge of the science of sous-vide cooking in order to foster a better understanding. In particular we’ve worked very closely with both the city of New York and the state of California as they’ve updated their health codes to reflect the use of sous-vide technology. As understanding spreads and all parties become more knowledgeable and comfortable, I think you’ll see more kitchens adapting these techniques.

Christina Wennstrom: Mr. Thomas Keller, when bringing a piece of meat or seafood out from the fridge, what is the correct timing that should pass for a correct ‘tempering’? How do I know the meat/seafood’s center is at the same temp of its surface? Any quick tips?

TK: The first thing to remember is that food should never be between 40 and 140 degrees for more than four hours total so you want to be sure to buy your food from high-quality sources and be sure to keep it cold until you are ready to temper. The time you temper will depend on the size and cut of a piece of protein but even 20 or 30 minutes at room temperature will have a significant effect on the finished product.

Simon Jagassar: What are three of your favorite dishes?

TK: There are so many foods that I love but I can think of three favorite dishes that come together for a wonderful meal: a nice, fresh salad of garden lettuces with simple vinaigrette, a simple roast chicken and lemon tart. In fact my love for this type of cuisine was one of the main reasons we opened our first Bouchon and all these dishes are still featured on Bouchon’s menu in Yountville, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills. -- Russ Parsons