The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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Page 86 of 140

86  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2015 T here are three burgers on the menu at the casually trendy Plan Check chain in Los Angeles. One of them, the Bleuprint Burger, is made with smoked bleu cheese, "pig candy," fried onions, roasted garlic steak sauce and peppercress. The other two—the PCB and the Chef's Favorite—include ingre- dients like "Americanized" dashi cheese, and schmaltz onions. But the ingredient that really stands out on the latter two is the "ketchup leather." As a longtime fan of Heinz Ketchup—the standard for this condiment—I've long been puzzled by the need sundry molecular chefs feel to reinvent the wheel: Why improve on perfection? And yet, as Executive Chef Ernesto Uchimura tells it, there's always the chance you'll come upon a better mousetrap. Merrill Shindler: So . . . why? Ernesto Uchimura: There's nothing wrong with Heinz Ketchup. I love Heinz. But I wanted to create a more complex version that would be memorable. It's fun trying to reinterpret the classics. How do you do it? I use an Imperial Convection Oven. I needed an oven in which to make my ketchup leather and Sriracha leather— they're signature items at Plan Check. At first, I thought I needed a dehydrator that was large enough to create enough leather to put on the burgers we serve every day. Yes, well, that would seem to be the logical way to do it. I started off with a standard Excalibur Dehydrator, a good unit. But it just wasn't big enough to supply the volume. And so, I settled on an Imperial Oven, set to low heat. What's most important is air movement, which is essential for creating the leather. I use the same process for both the ketchup leather and the Sriracha leather. So, so far, you've re-invented ketchup, and you've re-invented Sriracha. What's next? Mustard leather? Cheese leather? Well, I am trying to make leathers out of other sauces. Sauces work best if your goal is changing the texture. I may go a step fur- ther and turn the sauces into powders. I've tried making a new type of beef jerky in the dehydrator as well. It's still experimental. Like a mad scientist? I'm always imagining new things. Is there an ingredient you couldn't improve on? Well, there is pepper. I love pepper mills, any brand. I can't work without them. For me, they're as important as a good knife and a spoon. You mean, like the ones you turn with your hand—totally low tech? I like my pepper mills to be strong, heavy-duty, standard wood ones. Just as long as they have a strong grinder. I like ones that can be adjusted on the fly, from fine to coarse and back again. But, that's so . . . normal . . . Well, I do like to throw in other spices, and see how they come out— coriander, Szechuan peppers. I keep finding new spices that work in a mill. It's always in my hand when I'm cooking a steak or a hamburger. Is there a Holy Grail of pepper mills? There's no particular brand—it's whatever I find at the restaurant supply house. But I prefer them to be old-school—the type you turn with your hands. TOOLS OF THE TRADE The Problem: Re-invent ketchup The Solution: Make ketchup leather The Problem Solver: Ernesto Uchimura, Executive Chef-Partner, Plan Check, Los Angeles The Plan Check PBC Burger in all its glory. PHOTO COURTESY OF PLAN CHECK Executive Chef Ernesto Uchimura of Plan Check in Los Angeles. PHOTO COURTESY OF PLAN CHECK Improving on Perfection by Merrill Shindler

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