Last week, 14 chefs jockeyed for space around a single table in the kitchen of the New England Culinary Institute's Dewey cafeteria building. They had come from as far as Argentina to tiny Montpelier to meet one man, Bruno Goussault, one of the creators of sous-vide cooking.
NECI instructors Andre Burnier and David Miles were among the chefs enrolled in Goussault's three-day, professionals-only class. (Next year's class is already a third of the way sold out, says Jean-Louis Gerin, NECI's executive chef and COO.) Most of the students will use their newly acquired skills in restaurant kitchens or at resorts. Burnier and Miles, for their part, will take what they've learned about the exacting cooking technique and teach it to NECI students.
Education is particularly important when working with sous-vide. The method of cooking vacuum-sealed meats in a low-temperature water bath results in exceptionally moist, flavorful food when done correctly. But in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous. Gerin, a longtime sous-vide practitioner, says he's seen online videos in which cooks prepare meat sealed in a kitchen storage bag or Space Bag. "Of course you will kill somebody," says Gerin, only half joking. "The beauty of [the class] is to show students not to play with it."
Goussault began developing the technique in 1971. Now chief scientist and founder of the Paris-based Culinary Research and Education Academy, he started his Montpelier class each morning in the meat-fabrication classroom, where he discussed the history and theory of sous-vide. From there, chefs moved to the kitchen for hands-on experimentation. They cooked various proteins — ranging from rack of lamb to sweetbreads — in several different ways to see which method worked best for each meat.
On the final day of class, the chefs served an afternoon feast that included pork belly cooked for 43 hours with a simple rub of salt, pepper and juniper; 30-percent-butter mashed potatoes (based on the 50-percent recipe of Goussault protégé Joël Robuchon); and tender, intensely flavored carrots.
Gerin says hosting the class marks a coup for NECI — and the state. "It's important for Vermont to have Bruno Goussault and his group," he says. "It reassures people in the industry that Vermont is not one of the players; it is the player in the Northeast. Vermont is a leader. [Goussault and his associates] are sitting around in Paris and Washington, and they can go anywhere to teach their classes. They chose to be associated with Vermont."