I've been following Alex and Aki at Ideas in Food for several years now and I managed to somehow miss the class they did at Stir so when it popped up in my twitter stream from @tmaws that they would be doing several classes this week as a lead up to their already sold out James Beard House dinner I decided to find a way to go. My pal Ali from here and here is home from the UK for the summer so emails were dispatched and agreements were reached and we booked in for the Activa class on Tuesday.
While Ali and I were driving over he said "How much would you like to bet I will be the only person under 18 in the room?" I knew we would get some looks, but if anyone heard him talk about food they would change any preconceived notions immediately. I've known Ali for about 4 or 5 years now when he started taking classes with us at Create a Cook. He has gone from mildly interested to sincerely passionate about food in that time. He is my first choice to call for any foodie field trip. He takes classes at Stir and spends so much time there and at No9 Park that Barbara Lynch invited him to the soft opening at Menton. How's that for 14 years old? He's toured her kitchens, lamented missing the pigs head with me at the Craigie on Main pig night, and his parents just built him his own experimental kitchen in the basement. He is currently obsessed with getting a Pacojet and an anti-griddle and this class did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for the Pacojet.Quite simply he wants to be the next Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adria. I'm just along for the ride to feed his brain with ideas and maybe someday get a good table.
Activa, for the uninitiated, is simply an enzyme that allows proteins to bond together. There are versions that work with dairy, versions that work well with soy and two that work well with meats. Alex ran us through all 4 versions with a demonstration of the application. The photo at the top is his shrimp salumi. Basically chopped shrimp, seasoned with cayenne, smoked paprika, garlic powder and salt and then bound with Activa RM, pressed into a ring mold and then put under vacuum and left to chill. Texturally it felt a bit like a firm jelly, cooked it would have the nice snap of the shrimp in the mouth. Sliced thin and wrapped around a scallop and seared or layered between beef for a spin on a surf and turf. A dish I could never understand the appeal of, but obviously widely loved by the number of times you see it on menus.
The coolest demo though was for mozzarella noodles. Yup. Noodles made from cheese. Spin that around for awhile my fellow cheese hounds. They took mozzarella and ricotta some salt and the Activa Y-G and spun it a few times in the Pacojet. Using an offset spatula Alex spread it thinly on some acetate sheets and then you let it set up in the fridge for 18-24 hours. It peels off the acetate in a thin sheet and then just cut it into fettucine or tagliatelle with a knife. They passed them around both raw and cooked in a bit of butter. I loved the texture raw, but wasn't as enamoured when it was cooked. But just imagine it raw tossed with a fresh tomato salsa. Caprese fettucine?
Ali's favourite dish was the bread pudding that tasted like a ramped up version of French Toast. I loved the hangar steak, folded in half, glued, wrapped with thin slices of bacon, compressed and then...Deep fried. HELLO. It was almost impossible to see where the halves were attached when sliced. Really amazing. Alex is incredibly knowledgeable about the various products and their uses, but I wish we had more demo. It was really fascinating to see the products transform in front of you. Our heads were spinning with ideas as we left Craigie. Ali was remembering an episode he saw where they had to make a turducken in 30 minutes. He was already thinking of taking a breast of each, pounding them thin and then pasting them together and compressing them.
Is this something the average cook is going to use everyday? No. Will it gradually trickle down and find some home applications? Absolutely.
Eventually we wound up over at Formaggio on Huron, Ali had only ever been to the one in the south end and I felt that he should go to the mothership. He was, for lack of a better word, gobsmacked. Every nook and cranny was investigated. I lead him room to room and then said " And now we are entering the room of happiness", and I waved my arm at the cheese wall. "Cheese" we both sighed. Like rats we both picked up a bit of this and a bit of that and grabbed two sandwiches for lunch. We hopped back in the truck and we decided we needed to find a place to eat our spoils. We headed over to the most beautiful place I could think of on short notice, the Mt. Auburn cemetery, and had a drive around and ate our spoils in the midst of the eternally quiet. I'm taking bets on which one of us will order some Activa to play with first. The circulator awaits.