I was intrigued by the new wave, "El Bulli" style of the signature drinks ...
(El Bulli is a Barcelona/Cost Brava restaurant consistently voted best in the world by foodies in the last ten years or so. The chef and resident mad-genius, Ferran Adria, is famous for introducing foams, gels, inkjet printed sauces and other hi-tech and food processing ideas into gourmet dining. His other trademark is "deconstructed" dishes, where normally mixed ingredients are presented separately in art gallery mode)
... I have my doubts about where this trend is heading for food, and I'm particularly doubtful when it comes to espresso based signature drinks. Many of the preparations sound more like desserts or meditation aids than like drinks; and it's getting very far away indeed from items that could eventually be served at cafes.
However, these things always inspire more practical innovations by indirect routes; so perhaps something will come of it. I would be interested, though, if other observers at the WBC or national championships think the sigs are getting out of hand.
Great article, though I when it comes to part two I don't think I would have been able to hold back on a few things.... but that you know.
As for the point about the El Bulli style sig drinks - I feel somewhat in the crosshairs on this one - then my explanation is simple.
It's called a signature drink and a signature should be unique to you and hold something of your character in it. The part of me that was in that drink was a genuine passion for the chemistry of food and taste mixed with a belief that these things need a sense of humour too. I wanted to do something visually striking, that might delight someone as hopefully they had never, ever seen anything similar before. (I am fairly sure they haven't)
I have already started putting work into next year's drink, and the approach will be similar (get to grips with the chemistry of it all) though I have had to ditch one idea already as the cost of development looked set to spiral into the thousands!
Coffee is complex, and to the massive range of its flavour chemistry entices me with the idea of hundreds of different flavour marriages and combinations. There were many different styles of signature drinks on show in Bern, and I think all of those that made the final were very different and rightly reflected the characters of the baristas creating them.
Thanks for the response, and congratualtions on your performance.
I think everyone who loves food and drink has been inspired by Adria, at least in so far as not to turn their noses up on food processing techniques, but to see their potential in "per espress" preparations. I've got a PID on my slow cooker now for sous vide, as well as a set of emulsifiers, surfactants, gel on heating compounds, etc. that have me scratching my head as I attempt to master their possibilities. Also part of what I was saying is just the old-fogey in me, concerned that all my hard won technique will be about as useful as carriage making in a few years.
A good barista will always want to stretch the boundaries of their art. I would be cheering at the top of my voice if the stretching came in the form of techniques to prepare shots from the very high grown acidic coffees that capture or exceed their taste in the cup. SO technique has a long way to go before it gets to this point.
My main concern is almost philosophical: There's a lot of people who think that in food and drink, the greatness is in the growing plant or moving animal. Mastery of all the steps of getting it prepared and on the plate or in the cup lies in not destroying any of those flavors, but rather bringing them out. Obviously, understanding the science will always help. The technology too may serve this purpose and open up entirely new vistas.
But at what point does the artifice used to bring out the flavors in the food turn into artificiality? I certainly don't know; but I think that as one masters this new art, it's a dividing line worth keeping in mind.
What gel on heating compounds you using? Wiley at WD-50 in New York is doing a rather clever fried egg a like - same look and texture but using sweet coconut for the white and something else for the yolk (wish I could remember what, but is sounded so very tasty).
He is using a rather interesting compound, and I used a similar variant as the secret foaming agent in the mousse in my sig drink.
And as for growing the food - you are completely right. My tag line will always be "a barista is only as good as their coffee", and I see more potential in growing and processing for new and exciting flavours, and the science having the potential for interesting, respectful, and thought provoking delivery and display.
I must say I know very little about El Bulli, and I must credit all my learning and access to my friends at the Fat Duck here in the UK.
I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I have been intrigued by the WBC for a while, but never really had an inside look into them until this article. Congratulations to all the participants, and can't wait for next year!
"I just hope that people realize that coffee is not just a caffeine delivery service, it can be a culinary art." -Christopher Owens
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