Cuca's experience: Creating dishes without recipes
The Jakarta Post
The secret of cooking delicious, mouth-watering cuisines without needing recipes is revealed by Chef Kevin Cherkas during a tasting class that is both entertaining and bursting with eye-opening information.
Cherkas, co-founder of Cuca, a new culinary destination in Bali's Jimbaran area that will open its doors in early August, came to Jakarta to teach several invited participants how to create dishes without using recipes simply by building their ability to taste and understand flavors.
The so-called Discovering Taste class, which will be held twice a week at Cuca, began with Cherkas explaining his idea to hold a totally unique cooking class which is showcasing his unconventional creative approach to cooking.
To ensure that attendees would easily remember his insightful cooking tips, a large worksheet with colorful illustrations was provided as a simple guidance throughout the session.
The first program was to identify and understand the basic flavors people taste and how to separate the flavors into categories.
For this, participants wrote down the flavor that represents each item shown in the worksheet ' from sweet and salty to sour and bitter. For instance, a slice of lemon signifies sour whereas a cup of
coffee refers to bitter.
Perfume, according to Cherkas, is also a flavor, although it has absolutely no taste ' just like when people consume nuts, the aroma gives knowledge of what kind of nut it is.
The same goes with herbs, people would know the flavor of a certain herb when they smell the aroma in their mouth.
'We can smell thousands of things and smell is the most powerful source of our memory. So when we taste something, our brain actually registers and identifies that particular item. But in our mouth, we can only register a few flavors. Thus, we're going to look at perfume as a flavor,' Cherkas says.
The chef ' who honed his cooking skills at Daniel, a Michelin three-star restaurant in New York City, as well as some Michelin starred restaurants in Spain, like Arzak in San Sebastian, El Bulli in Roses and La Broche in Madrid ' then encouraged participants to understand the flavor map of the tongue, or in other words, which area in the tongue we taste sweet, salty, sour and bitter.
Here, Cherkas explains how flavor becomes one of the most vital elements used in modern-day cooking.
He then displayed a slide presentation featuring a wide variety of ingredients, in which participants had to guess the flavor category for each item. For example, vanilla is perfume, a chunk of cheese is salty and broccoli is bitter.
'Every time you look at an ingredient, such as fruits or vegetables, I want you think of the flavor of that ingredient at its peak of freshness. That's the way you should be thinking of these ingredients.'
Proteins and fillers were also discussed, which both are used in cooking for nutrition purposes. Beef, chickens and fish are included as proteins whereas fillers comprise of bread, rice and pasta.
'These are not flavors,' he says, 'but instead, proteins and fillers act as flavor carriers, in which they absorb flavors from other ingredients'.
In the second program, Cherkas talks about liquid discovery ' how flavors not only apply for foods but also for beverages.
For the exercise, participants were asked to write down the basic ingredients of a classic cocktail, lime margarita and the flavor represented by each of them.
Then comes the part of understanding the true meaning of 'delicious'.
Cherkas started off by revealing many details of his working experience in many acclaimed restaurants worldwide with captivating and witty narration.
'I've worked with all these award-winning talented chefs and I've cooked using their recipes, but I never knew why these recipes were a success,' he says.
After doing some extensive researches on popular cuisines that have stood the test of time and even become a staple for centuries, Cherkas found the simple truth behind their delicious signature taste: 'Each of these dishes possesses the rightful combination of all the five flavor categories ' sweet, salty, sour, bitter and perfume.'
He further explained his finding by attractively dissecting the ingredients of a classic pumpkin soup and paella, Spanish traditional fried rice, to participants.
'So, if a dish was missing one or two of these flavors, it would certainly taste flat or unbalanced with no 'wow factor'.'
Participants were then asked to complete the last section of the worksheet that comprises of several pie charts each representing a certain type of food ' appetizers, snacks, main courses and desserts.
'The chart is a breakdown of the flavors and for each of these different dishes,
one flavor is always stronger than others. Dessert, for instance, is primarily going to be sweet.'
As for appetizers, the most dominant flavor would be sour, snack is going to be saltier and main course tends to be bitter.
'The idea [of eating] is to start bright at the beginning before you get to the main course and dessert.'
For the final program, he invited participants to build a dish together with him, showing that it is actually doable to create foods without using recipes.
He then asked random participants for any ingredients to be cooked; the results were chicken, potatoes, carrots, lemon, Brussels sprouts, bacon and marjoram. Quickly, he then explained what he would do in less than five minutes.
'I would marinade the chicken with marjoram and a little bit of olive oil and then roast it, boil and mash the potatoes, boil the carrots or just leave them raw, wrap the bacon around the Brussels sprouts and roast them, then squeeze the lemon on top of the roasted chicken.
I promise you, if you cook these ingredients together, they will work.'
He then thoroughly shares the easy steps to creating dishes without using recipes.
'First, decide what you want to make, either it is a main course or a snack. That way, it will be easier to determine the most dominant flavor you will be using. If it needs to be a main course, don't add too much of the sweet ingredients.
'Then, select a protein, and if you want to, pick a filler. But if you prefer a light meal, you can skip the filler. After that, select one ingredient representing each of the five flavor categories. And lastly, determine what cooking method you will be using for each ingredient.'
With these simple instructions in mind, participants will have the freedom to buy and cook without feeling stressed out of not having a recipe.
'From now on, use recipes only for the sake of getting inspiration or finding different ways to cook things you love,' Cherkas says.
' Photos courtesy of Cuca
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