Richard Blais

Richard Blais breaks down the new and improved Top Chef Kitchen.

on Aug 26, 2009

Vacuum Packer - Popularized by Top Chef Season 3 winner, Hung Hyunh, the vacuum is crucial to sous vide cooking. It was developed in France in the early 70s. This technology allows the chef to infuse, marinate, compress, cook sous vide, and store ingredients efficiently. This year's kitchen gets equipped with a high powered industrial model, definitely not available in seasons past. Previously, a consumer model of the Food Saver was available, and still is, if necessary.  But before that, chefs would have to pack their own as a secret tool. In tonight’s episode Bryan Voltaggio cooks his black cod sous vide and Michael Votaggio compresses elements for his gazpacho, both using the technology of the vacuum chamber.

Poly Science Immersion Circulator - popularized by multiple contestants and used extensively in serious professional kitchens. The circulator will hold a precise temperature and allows its users to cook with precision to a tenth of a degree. The circulator warms a “bath” where vacuum-sealed ingredients float and slowly cook. It is the most common tool used in cooking sous vide. I liken it to a high tech crockpot, or maybe a jacuzzi. Tonight, as in Episode 1, both Voltaggio brothers used it and I’d guess you’ll see a good portion of the cast grab one throughout the season. 

The Tech shelf - Ingredients used in the modern kitchen that were previously unavailable to contestants and could only be brought in as secret ingredients. Ranging from methyl cellulose (used to make Bryan’s winning meringue) to glucono delta lactone. Available from Terra or, look for these jars and containers filled with non descript whitish powders to emulsify, gel, dry, encapsulate, acidulate, carbonate, and basically manipulate many preparations.

Liquid Nitrogen - Popularized on Top Chef by that guy with the funny hair and in our industry by British Chef Heston Blumenthal. What was made available to me in a soup thermos in Puerto Rico only, is now available in the form of a 600 pound pressurized tank, and a transportable container for the chefs to take on the road. The planet’s second coldest substance presents the ability to freeze anything in minutes or even seconds. It drastically creates amazing texture and therefore, mouthfeel (as in Michael Voltaggio’s gazpacho). It can be used to cold “fry” or “sear” and in one of it’s most useful roles, to freeze alcohol, ( Michael's sorbet ).

Along with these tools, also look for Pressure cookers, (which are in my honest opinion the most important piece of equipment in the kitchen), multiple small smoking units (Hector, Episode 1), deyhdrators, paco-jets, and anti-griddles!

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And look for my companion piece, called “Second Helping” on Creative Loafing’s blog Omnivore.