David Usborne: Our Man in New York

Share

A culinary revolution recently rolled into New York that was especially good news for patrons of such pricey joints as Per Se or Bouley Bakery. Their highly trained and highly salaried chefs had discovered boil-in-the-bag. Yet, we must reluctantly report, amid threats of fines and imprisonment, this is an enlightenment rudely interrupted.

It is not boil, exactly, but rather slow poach. Very, very slo-ow poach. It is kitchen science as much as cooking and it comes with a fancy name too - sous vide.

French for "under vacuum", sous vide refers to a cooking technique popular in Europe since the Seventies. It involves taking your chosen food - say a cut of pork or even a vegetable - infusing it with herbs, vacuum-packing it in plastic and then submerging it for a long time in water some degrees beneath even a simmer. So, how does sous vide food taste? You might well ask. I am told the results are uniquely succulent and tasty but I have yet to experience it. And this is not because I am cheap in my restaurant habits.

Chefs like Dan Barber of Blue Hill off Washington Square Park are wishing sous vide meant "under the radar". Like many of his peers, Barber had been wowing his diners with sous vide dishes for months when, last autumn, disaster struck. The New York Times blew the whistle, hailing sous vide as the most important thing to happen in the kitchen since the advent of the gas ring and the blender.

This being Manhattan, those of us who had not heard of sous vide until then kept it to ourselves. Equally mystified but less concerned with illusions of social sophistication was the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Sous vide, it decided, was a French subversion and a menace to society. Restaurants found to be practising it were told to desist and some were fined. Technically, any chef who violates this order today could find themselves behind bars. And so it is that ours may be the only city in the world with a sous vide prohibition. The reason is some putative risk of listeria or botulism - no case of sous-vide poisoning has been recorded. Asked to explain, an official at the Health Department promised to get back to us but never did.

Now that we know what sous vide is - and that we can't have it - we are fighting mad. Chef Barber presides over two restaurants, the Blue Hill in Manhattan and the Blue Hill at Stone Barns on a verdant Rockefeller estate in Westchester County north of the city. In Westchester he continues to practise sous vide beyond the reach of the city's bureaucracy and prosecution. On Friday, he risked inviting a journalist to spy inside his Stone Barns kitchen, now a sort of sous vide speakeasy. On a counter, a stainless steel bath is filled with barely steaming water. From a small fridge below, Barber retrieves a vacuumed sachet of perfectly poached quail's breast. Voilà!

Am I dreaming or will sous vide touch my tongue at last? It won't. There is no table in my name and Chef Barber has no orders to spare. So it is back to Manhattan and the misery of braised, flame-grilled and sautéd. And plain old boiled.

* Not content with squeezing every ounce of productivity from its workers, America has now turned its attention to consumers. I noticed it first in the cinema. After allowing us to swipe our credit cards in machines to get our tickets, we are now being asked to print the tickets from our computers at home. That's seems like a great way to prune the payroll, but you still have to hand your print-out to an attendant in return for an actual ticket.

But the airlines have really got this down. Before flying to London from Newark recently, I printed out my boarding pass at home and at the airport I scanned the print-out and then my passport. But I had a bag to check-in. An airline employee weighed the bag. Did she then lift it onto a conveyor belt? No, I was expected to do it. You wonder what's next. I can see that passengers taking on security screening responsiblities might be fun. I'll frisk you first. No, I go first.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

EBD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Science Teacher Greater Manchester

Humanities Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities teacher required for ...

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIRED - Humbe...

Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are looking for a Qualified C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits