“Two eggs – any style”. If you see that as an option on the menu and your breakfast companion is French culinary chemist superstar and founder of Molecular Gastronomy Dr. Hervé This (pronounced “Teess”) – I’ve got one word for you and it’s “Run!!!” – unless you aren’t doing much for the next three years. This This sees egg like a bull sees red.
Hervé This is the reason I flew to San Francisco from Los Angeles this past week — to sit at the feet of the master in this sold-out event. Other spectators ranged from Los Angeles Top Chefs Walter Manske (Bastide) and David Myers (Sona/Comme Ca) to Bravo Top Chef 2nd Season foam finalist with the meringue-peaked hair Marcel Vigneron.
Hervé was in town hawking his recently published English edition of "Kitchen Mysteries – Revealing the Science of Cooking" - and he was also there to change the way the world cooks. He gave a six hour talk and demonstration at Le-Sanctuaire, a fifth floor Sutter street culinary Galapagos of exquisite high tech kitchen ware (think $10,800 Rotaval Vacuum Evaporator) and exotic spices (think Vadouvan – a French interpretation of Indian curry).
Dr. This never failed to remind our masses that much of what he does can be replicated by a 6-year-old (French) child. And he may be on to something because Hervé's demonstration tools were decidedly and unexotically low-tech: a whisk, orange juice, a bowl, oil, a microwave, water, and an egg.
He doesn’t think the way we think. When I see “two eggs – any style”, I usually go crazy and ask for “poached, no, no, no, make that, hmmm, scramble, no poached”. When Hervé sees an egg there are 6 possible starting points for a recipe that he numbers 1.1 full egg; 1.2 egg shell alone; 1.3 yolk and white out of shell but not mixed; 1.4 mixed yolk and white; 1.5 white; 1.6 yolk.
He then thinks: What combination of substances to mix with the egg component, then what sort of application (heat, cold, baked, whipped, sautéed, etc) should be used to cook that mix and then …. There are an infinite possible number of dishes using his system.
We saw him whisk an egg white with a little orange juice for about 5 minutes and then stick it in a microwave for 25 seconds solidifying the foam object. Or let’s say you want eggs the next morning – his chemistry experiments have revealed that since an egg stops cooking at 65 degrees Celsius after about an hour, you could set your timer at night and wake up the next day to have a perfectly cooked egg albeit one that has cooked at that same temperature for eight hours.
Hey, this is a guy known for having a quail egg stand in vinegar for three years to see what happens! The shell becomes translucent, the egg swells to four times its size - yet its ready to be eaten in a salad like a hardboiled one.
It wasn’t all eggs, all the time, however. Dr. This covered a lot of territory. He believes that if your kitchen smells great then you are doing something wrong – the good stuff should not be leaving the pot. Find a way to keep it in. Low heat, lid, parchment paper, and the like.
After the exhilarating demonstration which explored the importance of how you cut food, how you stack food on a plate, how you contrast colors of food to create an illusion on the staircase of sensation, I repaired around the corner to the Rouge et Blanc wine bar on Grant Street at the base of Chinatown before I headed back to the airport.
Just when I thought it safe to relax, Hervé walked in for an interview with the internationally fabulous food blogger Pim of ChezPim fame (chezpim.typepad.com). Equally renowned Los Gatos Manresa Chef David Kinch was also at his table.
From my perch, I could see Jess, our mutual waitress, pour Hervé a glass of red out of what looked to be a quartino sized carafe that she sat in front of him. It was a short pour. Hervé stopped her and asked why did she pour it to the low level she did. Wasn’t she aware that because of the quantum theorem of bubblization - or something or other - there was more aroma to be sniffed from a bigger pour?
She told me later that this was just her second week and shockingly no one had ever asked her that question before. She told Dr. This that customers seemed to enjoy knowing that there was a little more wine waiting in the wings if she left some behind. He seemed satisfied with her reply but as soon as she turned her back I could see him put the rest into his glass. He might have been making a point to Ms. Pim unless he was just really thirsty.
Meanwhile, feeling scientifically emboldened, I began conducting experiments of my own with a 2006 Do Ferreiro Albarino (better glass/to lips or lips/to glass?) dreaming of my next “any style” egg order at the Breadbar on Third Street in Los Angeles and my first question to waiter Elam: “Excuse me, could I first see what sort of postgraduate chemistry degree the chef has?”
Rouge et Blanc Wine Bar, 334 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94108, (415) 391-0207
Bruce Cormicle is an attorney, writer, and chef who works in Beverly Hills and recently started his own catering company called "You've Been Served".