Friday, September 21, 2018

"fondue" with Almazan Kitchen

Watch this Almazan Kitchen video first. I'll wait.

Now, kiddies, let's play What's Wrong With This Picture?

I have a pretty specific idea of how to prep a Swiss fondue. I've made the fondue neuchâteloise on many occasions, and I can vouch that, once you get the procedure down, your results will be perfectly consistent thanks to Mother Nature and her amazingly regular laws of physics. There are certain parameters outside of which you must not stray when making a fondue, and in the above video, I found at least three ways in which the mad Serb diverged from the proper Swiss way of doing things.

1. Garlic up your caquelon. The pot or pan or other vessel that sits on the heat and cooks the fondue is called le caquelon in French. As part of your prep, you need to take a large clove of garlic, slice it in two, then rub the exposed cross section of garlic all over the interior of the caquelon. This wasn't done in the video: we skipped foreplay and went straight to the fucking. The chef dumped in garlic powder later on, almost as an afterthought.

2. Use cornstarch. For any standard fondue of whatever type or regional variation, you normally either dice your cheese or run it through a grater. After that, you drop a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch onto the cheese and hand-toss it so that all the cheese is now evenly coated in cornstarch. This ingredient is essential because it aids in emulsifying the final mixture—a mixture that contains elements, like oil, that don't play well with others, and that are always trying to separate themselves. Cornstarch is what cooks call a "binder," which isn't quite the same as an emulsifier (egg is a binder when making meatballs, but no one would call the meat in a meatball "emulsified"), but in this case, binding and emulsifying come down to the same thing—the holding-together of a fondue. The mad Serb uses no cornstarch, and this creates a problem that we'll talk about shortly.

3. For the love of Jesus, DO NOT boil the wine! At a guess, the Swiss probably got this particular bit of wisdom from the wine-loving French. It's not so much that boiling will ruin the final product (in my early fondue-making days, I added cheese to boiling wine with no ill effects) as it is that boiling rapidly denatures the wine itself. You don't want to release all the alcohol; a proper fondue has a grown-up, alcohol-infused taste to it. Alas, one of the first things we see in the Almazan video is the pouring of wine into a ripping-hot pan, causing an immediate boil. No, no, a thousand times non!

The Tragedy at 11:52. If you click over to 11:52 on the video (click here), you'll see what happens when you fail to add cornstarch. Look carefully at the periphery of the shot, then look at the cheese in the center of the pan. Notice the radical difference in texture? The liquidy cheese at the edges can barely be called cheese, while the cheese in the middle of the pan is gummy and rubbery. This is due to lack of emulsification. Without cornstarch as the binder, you get at least two very different consistencies, and no amount of sexy stirring for the camera is going to fix this problem. I'm tempted to say that what the mad Serb made is closer to a Welsh rarebit than to a real fondue, but even a Welsh rarebit uses a roux (flour + butter) to maintain an even consistency throughout the whole pot as it cooks.

Another potential issue. What are your thoughts on eating fondue with what are effectively large croutons instead of with the standard hunks of baguette? I call this an issue and not a problem because I admit I'm a bit torn. On the one hand, when the chef first brought out the bread, my initial reaction was, "No, that's way too soft." For dipping purposes, you need bread with a strong, hardy crust that will allow your bread-hunk to remain on your fondue fork as you drag the bread through the cheese. But then, the chef solved the softness problem by collecting some fatty, dry-aged ham (which looked amazing, by the way), cubing it, and rendering out the pig fat so as to fry the bread (a move that I predicted when I saw how fatty the ham was). So I give the guy a thumbs-up for solving the softness problem, but I can't help thinking he created another problem when he ended up with croutons. That said, when I saw the ham-and-bread skewers he made at the very end of the video, I thought the croutons were ultimately a good way to go... although the sight of cheese being poured onto ham and bread again brought me back around to Welsh rarebit.

I don't normally quibble with the mad Serb's way of doing things. The man is obviously a far more talented cook than I'll ever be. But every once in a while, he'll attempt something that I'm familiar with and, in so doing, make certain choices that I don't agree with. Ultimately, if you handed me those cheese-covered skewers, I wouldn't reject them. I suspect they would taste pretty damn good (and I loved his choice of three cheeses to go into the mix, although I have no idea what Trappista is... it sounds as if it's made by sexually frustrated monks*). That said, I hesitate to call what the chef did a true fondue.

Your thoughts?

*Wikipedia has an entry on Trappista here. It is indeed made by Trappist monks. Celibacy-imposed sexual frustration often leads to creative expression: this is how the Capuchin monks gave us cappuccino, and how we got various beers, wines, and cheeses. In Asia, Buddhist monks channel their lust into making different varieties of tofu, acorn jelly, and the like.


Charles said...

Agreed, with one addition:

For the love of God, wash your hands after touching that cat!

I don't regularly watch this guy's videos, so I don't know what his shtick is, but why is the cat even there? And why does he have to pet the cat and then, with that same hand, immediately grab hold of that bread?

Eh, I don't know. Like I said, I don't watch this channel. I know you've posted his videos before, but I've always skipped over them because the thumbnails made them look like food porn rather than what I would consider a cooking video. Having now watched this video, I believe I was correct--it's all for the camera. He is performing as much as he is cooking. Which I suppose is perfectly fine, but it just strikes me as a little... fake? Posed? Dunno.

Kevin Kim said...


There have been complaints in the comments section about his habit of petting his pets, then turning immediately to his food. Along with cats, the guy has a few dogs, as well as an owl apparently named Mr. Ramsay. All of those creatures get some hand-love from the chef. (OK, that came out wrong.) I suppose one could argue that, in the case of the bread, any pathogens got killed during the frying process, but then again, he didn't exactly stop petting his animals.

The Serb has definitely embraced the food-porn aesthetic. There are times when I'm convinced a lot of it is self-parody, especially with the relentlessly over-the-top titles that he gives his videos.

Charles said...

It did consider that most pathogens will likely be killed off, but still... it's a bit icky, no?

I have taken a look at the titles of some of his other videos (what with YouTube now recommending them to me), and you do appear to be right about the over-the-top titles ("YOU WILL REGRET NOT WATCHING THIS SATAY VIDEO!!!!" No, I will not). This is one of those not-sure-if-serious-or-just-trolling situations. He's leaning into it pretty hard, at any rate.