Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tales of the Cocktail 2010: The science of drink

The other seminars I attended during Tales tended to be more of the geeky nature.

Umami in Cocktails (Thursday, July 22)
As usual, Darcy O'Neil's seminar was chock full of information. Information you wouldn't even think of asking about basic cocktail ingredients. I attended his seminar on sugars and sweeteners in cocktails that ended up making me feel like I was back in materials science class again, and this seminar was no exception.

- Umami isn't a strictly flavor concept. In fact, as far as flavors go, it's pretty damn subtle to notice. It's more of a response trigger. It activates a significant number of pleasure centers in the brain and it also produces a response in receptors that are present all along the GI tract. It is a flavor enhancer that produces a response of satiety in the body.

- As an amino acid, umami is usually present in foods that have been aged. For example, Parmesan cheese or aged steak are chock full of it. This is mainly because the amino acids of umami are produced in the breaking down process involved in aging.

- Possible umami sources for cocktails? Darcy served Caesars to those in attendance. Caesar, with both tomatoes and clam juice, feature umami quite a bit. Potatoes also possess umami, believe it or not. Darcy told the audience of how he tried to make potato water by boiling cubed potatoes, then taking out the potatoes and boiling the water to reduce for another 5 min. According to Darcy the resulting water started smelling like French fries. Oh, and Marmite. Lots of umami there to, which brings us to the recipe for Darcy's 5th Sense Cocktail:

1 1/4 oz. bourbon
1 oz. SerendipiTea green tea
1 barspoon of Maraschin liqueur
1 barspoon of Marmite syrup (made by simply mixing one generous tablespoon of Marmite into a cup of water)

The Hows and Whys of Cocktails: An Exploration of Techniques, Ingredients and Methodology (Friday, July 23)
So ever wonder why that gelatin foam doesn't last that long compared to the one made with egg whites? Audrey Saunders was wondering about that too when she was first coming up with the Earl Grey Marteani. The first incarnation of this drink had an Earl Grey tea foam made with gelatin that wasn't holding up too well. Wanting to know why, she posed the question on eGullet, which is how she got to know Howard McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. The two were panelists for this seminar along with Tony Conigliaro.

McGee explained to the audience that foams are made of emulsifiers. The protein in gelatin differs from the protein in egg whites. the foam is weaker because the proteins do not bind as well as egg whites and are easily broken down by ingredients in cocktails like citrus or alcohol.

(Foam over time: Left, gelatin. Right, egg whites)

McGee went on to say that pasteurized egg whites you purchase from the store don't foam as well as actually egg whites taken from a raw egg.

There was a little bit of wink, wink, nudge, nudge joking considering The Pegu Club ran into a little issue with egg white use earlier in the year. Nonetheless, Audrey made certain to let the crowd know, "You cannot hop that youre eggs are good, you have to know your eggs are good."

Audrey ended up using egg whites for texture in the Earl Grey Marteani, and instead infusing gin with the tea.

Also, don't be too rough with your mint. When you start rough mint up, you get some of that plant-y flavor. McGee explained that the actual mint scent you get from mint comes from the little hairs on its fuzzy underside. You can try this out yourself by gently rubbing a mint leaf between your fingers and seeing how minty the scent is, versus actually crushing and ripping the leaf up and then smelling your fingers. Obviously, how rough you want to get with your mint can depend on what kind of drink your making.

The Science of Stirring (Friday, July 23)

Moderated by Eben Klemm, with panelists Thomas Waugh and Dave Arnold.

Eben started off by explaining stirring. he said stirring is "ineffectual shaking" if one simply takes into account chilling. However, other factors besides simply making a drink cold is why other techniques, like stirring exist.

Dave demonstrated this point with an extreme case of chilling down a drink, using liquid nitrogen.

Dave's tips for liquid nitrogen:

1. pour the liquid nitrogen into whatever you are cooling down, not the other way around.
2. Anything that's been frozen with liquid nitrogen can burn your tongue, so be sure to consume (or warn your patrons to consume) said item with caution.

The taste comparison was apparent. There was an oddly clean lack of personality to the drink frozen with liquid nitrogen, while the other had more of a something or other happening to it.

Factors that mess with stirring:

1. Speed of stirring
2. Surface area of the ice
3. Temperature of vessel
4. Temperature of the ice

Eben said through tests surface area of the ice has the biggest effect on temperature.

After some demonstrations and some talks about methodology used to measure the data, the panel called up people to the front to try out shaking, and several way of stirring, to see in real time how fast each method got liquids cooler. Shaking won out, but the audience also got the chance to come up and try out difference ice types and satisfy their own curiosity as well as ask the panel any questions they had on their minds about stirring and other stirring related items like ice (how wet? how cold? how big?).

Half the price of admission is to hear Dave Arnold speak, to be honest though. A blog entry seriously cannot do justice.

Tales of the Cocktail 2010: Go east, young man

I wasn't sure why Eben Freeman and Linden Pride's seminar on cocktails and Asia wasn't included in the professional track of seminars held on Wednesday (though I guess super early on a Thursday morning is close enough). While the topic did touch on flavors in Asia and how to use them in cocktails a bit, the two talked mainly discussed what they'd learned from the experience working the cocktail biz in Asia.

I have either heard of, read of or spoken to an decent number of folks in just the past year alone who have been to Asia either for consultant work or to work with brands and with a lot of the recent news about restaurants and chains expanding into territories like China (KFC, please come to the courtesy phone), it's not surprising that some people working in cocktails would be interested in heading out to Asia.

For example, Linden explained how in China there was a rise in service, design and cuisine.

Linden worked with Spice Temple in Sydney and had visited China to study local flavors and cuisines, as well as having worked with Mangkut Group with Eben doing beverage consultant work with numerous hotels.

Linden said that on the mainland, the market included consumers such as young, moneyed Chinese, young affluent locals who are returning from the West and foreign diners as well.

Combined with the Chinese dining culture where 'gaining face' is important through high-level spending for elaborate dinners, this means that not only is there a market for Western-food (and by extension, drink), but also for high-quality drinks crafted with both good ingredients and

These same group of consumers are also many times the same people you're going to be doing business with.

Eben said that anybody expecting to do business in Asia has to understand and respect the culture. For example, due to the way family relationships and businesses are structured, that means that many times you have a lot of young businessmen in their 20s who wield extreme power and wealth.

There are also those who have studied, lived or worked in the West and returned to their home country, and as potential business partners, they know how to both traverse traditional connections while doing business in a Western fashion.

Eben throughout some numbers that seem to point towards hotels as being the way. He also grabbed hotel numbers mainly because it's just too hard to accurately gauge the number of restaurants in such a huge and varied market as Asia. Especially when many of these restaurants are independents like mom and pop joints, hole in the wall neighborhood favorites or pop=up street stands.

Also, according to Eben, "Anyone going over for consulting is going to be with hotels."

According to his research, over 1,000 new hotels opening in China in the next 3 years.

- Starwood is opening 30 newly constructed properties in China for 2010.
- 664 new hotels will open in Asia in 2010.
- China will open 463 new hotels in 2010.
= India has highest number of pipeline projects, and 106 new hotels opening this year.

Bottle service is king and the market for Scotch whiskey is huge. Also the Asian palette is sensitive and discerning, at the same time, Eben explained that strong bold flavors in cocktails work better with the strong and bold flavors of Asian cuisine more so than delicate or overtly nuanced cocktails or wines.

For example, Eben said that Old Fashioneds have been highly popular when he's served it, because the drink has a balance of sugar and bitters (though Eben advised that people refuse from using the word "bitter" on menus or with drink descriptions). The market appreciates drinks with layers of flavor and even texture, like with egg white drinks.

"They don't like one note drinks, they're used to having a balance of many things in cuisine. Which makes them an ideal quality cocktail consumer."

Linden pointed out that in his experience, unfortunately, it's hard to utilize a lot of the flavors and fresh ingredients that are abundantly available in local markets when working with foreign-based business like hotels in Asian countries. Mainly because there maybe restrictions based on the food safety standards of a hotel that restrict the use of "unapproved" produce or ingredients.

Also the way that alcohol import works in a lot of Asian countries can be another hurdle.

But Linden advised that those who do get a chance to use local indigenous ingredients in their drinks should make sure they are using the ingredients in a "enlightened and not pandering way."