One of the best restaurants in the Netherlands (with three Michelin stars) is ‘de Librije’, in Zwolle (the east of our country). I have never eaten at the restaurant myself, but I was lucky enough to join one of their workshops in their so-called Librije’s Atelier. In this workshop space they give a lot of different workshops and demonstrations. The one we went to was all about innovative techniques in the kitchen.
The restaurant ‘de Librije’ and its workshop area sit on the side of the city center of Zwolle. The building used to be a women’s prison and has a very classy look on the outside, as well as thick walls… It provides a perfect ambiance for a nice dinner or an inspiring workshop.
Of course, the high quality of the restaurant was reflected in the workshop. It already started well, we were received very courteously. Even the juice we got served was of a very high quality, not any standard orange or apple juice for sure!
The workshop area where we were hosted is a great spacious area with a lot of cooking benches (made me think of the tv show Masterchef Australia). The benches were made of stainless steel and cooking was done on induction. It’s quick a safe without any chances of one of the participants settings things on fire.
During the whole workshop three Librije employees guided us through the entire evening, two chefs and one server. The chefs clearly have a passion for their job and a lot of knowledge about cooking, which was very inspiring to see.
The evening would be all about innovative techniques in cooking, a typical example of molecular gastronomy. The chefs would be showing us all sorts of examples of techniques they use in the restaurant. Most of the techniques they showed don’t use the conventional ingredients you can buy in your supermarket. Instead, they use special products which are part of the so called Texturas line.
The Texturas products have been developed by Ferran Adria, one of the most famous chefs of the beginning of the 21st century, who has closed his restaurant by now. In his restaurant, El Bulli, he developed a whole new way of serving foods. One of his main characteristics was that he used to deconstruct foods and rebuilt them using modern ingredients. He has developed a line of products (mostly powders) that he used to make these innovative dishes, this line of products is called Texturas.
Since the workshop would revolve mainly around these fancy ingredients the workshop started with a demonstration on how to use a lot of these different powders.
This demonstration was great, we got to see (and taste!) all sorts of elements of dishes served at the Librije. The fact that they used a lot of examples that are actualy being used in the restaurant made it a lot more interesting.
We got to taste a lot of surprising foods, to name just a few: coconut spaghetti, pineapple spheres, soft cheese in a gel, oysters with a super light foam and a rhubarb foam! During the demonstration we got to see just about every Texturas product with its application.
These techniques all revolve around a few basic techniques: spherification (making spheres of just about any liquid), intense freezing (‘playing’ with liquid nitrogen!), thickening & gelling (we tasted gelled vanilla which had the shape of a vanilla bean) and foaming.
I’d heard of several of these techniques before and got the chance to play with them that time as well. However, it was really nice to see them being used in such a high quality way. The chefs were able to explain how to use the powders well, however, they didn’t have the knowledge on how the powders came to work. It wasn’t necessary during this workshop, but it gave me some ideas to work on, see keep posted for more posts on this topic!
As you might know, I love bread, especially freshly baked bread. During the demonstration we had an amply supply of jummy bread and butter to eat. Not made with any special ingredients, but honestly, if I would have been served this bread and butter all evening and nothing else, I would have been happy.
After looking and tasting it was time for us to get to work as well! We all made the same dish using several of the techniques we’d seen before. I will highlight some of the techniques we used.
I knew about ‘confit duck’, but in this application we made ‘confit fish’. We cooked fish using the technique of confit, submerging the fish in oil of 80C and leaing it in for 15 minutes or so. It gave a perfectly cooked fish, so tender, it just fell apart.
Spherification with agar-agar
Of course we got to test the spherification technique as well. This is one of the techniques Ferran Adria as become famous for. We used agar-agar to make little spheres of black garlic.
In order to do this we had to dissolve the agar-agar in pre-made garlic liquid. Once dissolved we could gently drip the liquid into a very cold oil or liquid nitrogen. This caused the agar-agar to set almost immediately, forming little balls.
Liquid nitrogen, foaming and thickening
There were several other techniques we used: we froze a carrot in liquid nitrogen (and shattered it to little pieces), we made a light and airy foam of a liquid using lecithin and we thickened a little bit of stock by mixing in some xanthan gum.
All not amazingly complicated since most of the things were well prepared for us. Nevertheless, it was nice to do for ourselves. Within 45 minutes we were ready to eat!
After our dinner we got a little dessert to end with. An amazingly complicated dessert which looked like an egg in a shell, but of course, it wasn’t.
All in all it was a very entertaining workshop at Librije’s atelier. It was especially great that we got to taste so many products and saw the chefs using several of those techniques.
The only disadvantage for me were the books we got to take home. We were told that we would get all of the recipes in the booklets, but unfortunately, not all recipes were in there and some of the recipes in the booklet hadn’t actually been demonstrated.
All in all, it was a great evening, well organized and with (more than) enough food.
Got interested in the science behind all of these different techniques and products? No worries, I’ll be writing several follow-up posts diving into the details of what I learned this evening.