About Florian

About myself

Chef Watson and the Russian Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce

Back in February, I wrote about Cognitive Cooking, a project that I work on at IBM wherein computers help humans create flavorful, never-seen before recipes, such as this Baltic apple pie or this Russian beet salad. We’ve been quite busy since then, and our prototype, renamed Chef Watson, is getting ready for prime time. We released our first beta of the application to the public about a month ago, in partnership with Bon Appetit magazine. You can read all about it here, and register here.

One Chef Watson creation that’s drawn a fair amount of attention is the Bengali butternut BBQ sauce, a recipe that we designed just before the IBM food truck went to SXSW. But we actually tested two recipe ideas back then at the Institute of Culinary Education. The second one, a Russian sour cherry sauce, was never completed because we decided to go with the first one, but I still felt that it could be a great recipe with a little more tweaking of the proportions. Plus, it fits this blog’s theme perfectly! So I worked on a few more batches myself.

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Switching to the Metric System

I’ve been thinking for a while about using the metric system to weigh all the ingredients in my recipes. This is what many professional kitchens do, by the way. I long ago abandoned nonsensical cup measurements. I’ve made a reasonable effort to keep using ounces, but when it comes to spices and such, it just doesn’t make much sense. Teaspoons aren’t any more helpful, unless you’re using 1/16 increments.

From now on, I will measure all my ingredients in grams, unless the recipe requires a specific count of a given ingredient (one tomato, two eggs…). Dimensions will be similarly measured in millimeters or centimeters.

Let’s face it: if you’ve tried my recipes, you must already have a scale, and it can most certainly display weight in metric units (please don’t tell me you’re using an analogue model). So this change will only make your life simpler! Because at the end of the day, that’s is what it’s about: simplicity. No measuring spoons, measuring cups, hexadecimal conversions between pounds and ounces. Just put everything on your scale and measure away! Proteins, liquids, flour, cereal, seasoning — no job’s too large or too small!

Metric System

Romanian Post – Centennial of the metric system in Romania – 1966

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Restaurant Review: Ariana

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Ariana, in Greenwich Village, is the brain child of Russian singer Ariana Grinblat. According to the web site, Ariana “has decided it’s time to update Russian cuisine in America”, and we at Food Perestroika couldn’t agree more. With the help of Mari Vanna alum Vitaliy Kovalev “from St. Petersburg” (presumably Russia, not Florida), she’s “looking to shock your senses, and redefine what you thought you knew about Russian food”. Of course we’ve heard that song before, everywhere from nearby Groupon-magnet Onegin claiming to serve “Russian fusion” to the short-lived midtown Brasserie Pushkin with its world champion chef and pricey menu. Will our senses be shocked in a good way this time around, or will we end up eating the same old shoe-sole Stroganoff and overcooked cabbage rolls? Read on to find out!

Russian Cuisine - Ariana

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Kremlin Menu Watch, Part 4

Vladimir Putin’s been pretty busy lately. No fishing party this year. He must protect Crimea and the Motherland’s citizens against the anarchy of evil neighbor Ukraine! To recharge his batteries, he was served a seven-course dinner at the 2014 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. On the menu were such delicacies as smoked sturgeon salad, white asparagus soup with caviar, and… Crimean flounder.

I couldn’t find the entire menu, let alone the recipes, so I’ll reiterate my usual complaint: nobody (except maybe a fraction of the attendees) actually gives a damn about what was discussed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Okay, so the theme — “Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation”— is doubtlessly dear to Mr. Putin’s heart, given his fondness for transforming the world at his borders. Now just tell us what all those bigwigs ate!

Kremlin Menu Watch

At a meeting with members of the Russian Direct Investment Fund international expert council and international investors. Photo by the Presidential Press and Information Office.

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Back from Albania

I spent the last ten days in Albania, drinking mojitos on the beach, driving on mountain roads that give Georgia’s worst nothing to envy, doing some bunker sightseeing, and taking angered gas station attendants to ATMs. Of course, much local food was had. Stay tuned for recipes and travel stories!

Albania

Venison Steak, Red Beet-Cranberry Purée, and Country Fried Potatoes

As we’ve eaten our way through the deer I killed last fall, I’ve started cooking some of the backstraps, those beautiful 20+-inch-long pieces of loin. I’m thrilled to say that this is without a doubt the best venison steak I’ve ever eaten, and it has totally justified spending three days in a tree strand. The meat is both pleasantly gamy and butter-tender, thus surpassing beef filet mignon. And unlike restaurant servings that often consist of one tiny little medallion, for once quality comes with quantity! 

Summer may just have started, but read this post again in a month when the temperature hits 100 F and your AC breaks down. Imagine yourself in your mythical Russian dacha in the fall. After a fructuous hunt some previous day, you decide to hit the woods again to look for mushrooms after last night’s storm, and fill a basket within a few hours. You happen to walk by a cranberry bush on your way home, and fill another basket, patting yourself on the back for never leaving the house without two empty baskets. Before going into the kitchen, you stop in your garden, where, of course, you always grow beautiful red beets. And you still have potatoes from the last harvest. Skipping the part where you milk the cow, you collect the cream and make butter, you contemplate nature’s bounty as you pause between two chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you notice, almost in passing, that you now have all the ingredients for a dish that combines the five tastes: steak that will be properly seasoned with salt, a beet-cranberry purée that’s acidic, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and umami-packed mushrooms.

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Moldovan Impressions: The Cognac

In my previous Moldovan Impressions, we explored the local culinary traditions, visited the wine cellars, and discovered the renegade republics. We will soon leave Moldova to move on to stories of neighboring Ukraine, but before that, a little digestive is in order.

In capitalist societies, class inequality has led to Cognac being the privilege of the rich (and hip hop culture). Countries that were not so long ago devoted to socialism have been quick to try to replicate the Western lifestyle, in their rush to establish market economies (and hip hop culture). Meanwhile, bourgeois distilleries have ensured their monopoly through an appellation contrôlée — a rather dubious one, when you think of it, for a beverage whose double distillation most certainly erases any trace of terroir.

In the Soviet Union, however, the Politburo and the proletariat shared the same luxuries throughout the Empire. If brandy production started in both the Caucasus and Bessarabia at the end of the 19th century, one can thank communism for the spirit’s true democratization. Indeed, in 1978, the Ministry of the Food Industry decreed that every Soviet Republic must produce its own ordinary “cognac”. In Moldova, one producer of both the aged brandy and the democratic version (called Белый Aист, “White Stork”), was Kvint, in Tiraspol.

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Russian Fritto Misto with Cucumber Ketchup

On the heels of yet another recent trip to Pulaski, I went fishing with Captain Troy and came back home with two walleye. Walleye is the North American cousin of European pike-perch, a species found throughout Eastern Europe in places such as the basins of the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea. And so, my catch begged for an Eastern European recipe, such as… fritto misto.

Walleye

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Nesselrode, Part 2: the Restaurateur, the Old-Timers, and their Pie

You might remember the story of the Nesselrode Pudding; or, how Paris’ best pastry chef created a dessert for the Russian occupants while working for that turncoat Talleyrand. But perhaps your senile great-grandparents have fondly reminisced about a popular dessert of their New York youth, a symbol of a bygone era, in a slightly different format: the Nesselrode Pie.

I haven’t yet found any solid information on how the delicious chestnut pudding crossed the Atlantic to eventually become a classic New York pie. What I do know is that the pie, as older locals used to know it, was popularized by restaurateur Hortense Spier…

Nesselrode Pie

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Restaurant Review: Kebeer

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Uzbek Cuisine - KebeerIf you go to Brighton Beach with any regularity, you’ve probably passed by Kebeer Draft Bar and Grill a dozen times. Its location at the corner of Brighton Beach Ave and Coney Island Ave is hard to miss, and yet if you’re like me, you probably never paid much attention to it. Maybe because from the outside, Kebeer tries pretty hard to pose as a burger joint. One side of the storefront reads “Burger Shop”, and there are pictures of hamburgers all over the place. The menu boards outside advertise burgers and hot dogs. And beer, the place’s other specialty. Hamburgers in Brighton Beach, the neighborhood where people don’t understand how meat can be “rare” if it’s available on the menu every day. How many pints of beer do you need to drink in order to eat their shoe-sole beef patties, you might wonder…

Uzbek Cuisine - KebeerNow, prepare yourself for a shocking revelation: Kebeer is really…

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