Chef Steve Schimoler knows how to blend cooking and science as well as anyone. His definition of simplicity, however, could use a bit of work.
“[The dishes] are actually deceptively simple. I don’t overcomplicate stuff,” said Chef Steve of his culinary concoctions. “The smoked trout, we finally got it perfected now. It only took me 15 years to get it right.”
It is that commitment to his craft that has lifted the current owner of Crop Bistro & Bar in Ohio City to national notoriety, warranting showcases such as The Fusion of Food and Science at the Great Lakes Science Center on Monday night. Chef Steve, who has been featured on Food Nation, the PBS MasterChef series and served as a two-term president of the Research Chefs Association, is notorious for his innovative creations that mesh food and science in order to attain distinctive dishes that are both tasty and healthy.
“The whole foundation of cooking is science. It’s all about heat transfer and physics and chemistry,” said Chef Steve. “What we’re going to do is get more in-depth to understand the physiological and psychological connection of how we eat.”
The evening, which played host to more than 125 VIP guests from prominent local businesses, began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The two specialty drinks featured were a watermelon margarita and a Caprese salad “appitini” — a fusion of a food appetizer and a martini.
|Caprese salad "appitini"|
Cherry tomato veggie bombs (stuffed with vegetable cream cheese), Cropspacho shooters (with yellow peaches, carrots and cucumbers), steak truffled mushroom crostinis (with grilled rib-eye, asiago and goat cheese, and a trio of mushrooms) and the now-perfected trout cakes (with smoked trout, celery, apple and horseradish crème fresh) were just a few of the creations accompanying the beverages.
|Cropspacho shooter and smoked trout cake|
This was followed by a quick culinary experiment for those in attendance, using vanilla and different milks and creams to examine the impact fat content has on taste. Each attendee was presented with 2 percent milk, half-and-half and heavy cream. Using a dropper, small dribbles of vanilla were placed in the 2 percent milk until it reached a distinctive vanilla flavor for each individual. The same amount of vanilla was then added into the half-and-half and heavy cream before being tasted, displaying how the higher the fat content, the less vanilla flavor that came through. Chef Steve was able to show and tell how a lack of fat, sugar or salt in a dish does not also invoke a lack of taste.
|Our food experimentation station|
The final treat of the night was a demonstration by Chef Steve on how he prepares his crème anglaise, as well as a bit of his own background and history in the “food-science” field.
“My father was a veterinarian, and I grew up very heavily involved in science and biology. The cooking part was because we entertained a lot,” said Chef Steve, all while preparing his signature dessert sauce. “I was always intrigued by the influence of science and food. From an early age, I tried to understand what, 35 years later, I’m doing tonight.”
Each guest was able to try the crème anglaise poured over a dessert of cornbread, mixed fresh berries, cracked black pepper, basil, tarragon and balsamic syrup. Chef Steve’s crème anglaise uses less eggs and 2 perent milk instead of cream to bring the fat content down, while also mixing in fenugreek, a rare spice found in curry. The trick of fenugreek is that it adds a maple smell and taste to the dish without adding any unwanted fat or calories.
|The cornbread and berries dessert, covered in créme anglaise|
A quick Q&A session was interspersed among the bites of dessert, with Chef Steve continuing to stick to his simplistic guns.
“People take for granted the most basic things: Boiling water is science,” said Chef Steve. “When you look at how we approach cooking, I look at it more analytically in the sense that I’m trying to understand what impact those roles — the physics of cooking — play.”
Even with Chef Steve Schimoler’s guidance, understanding the scientific aspect was still a tad challenging. But tasting the difference? That was easy.