PORT visits the kitchen of experimental chef Jozef Youssef for a lesson in manipulating the senses
More than a chef, Jozef Youssef is an ‘experimental chef’. What sounds like an inflated job title to some, may be the only accurate descriptor of a man who has gone from cooking at The Fat Duck to conducting research with Oxford University’s Crossmodal Department. “I have an interest in the art, science, philosophy and history of gastronomy in all its amazing regional and cultural forms,” Youssef explains in our interview.
Youssef believes the five senses should lead when choosing, cooking and eating food, and manipulating them can elevate the culinary experience to new heights. For his latest project, he has created a sensory guide for Scotch whisky Chivas Regal, to maximise the understanding of the character of its Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Collection First Fill American Oak release. In it, he suggests that picking the right light, drinking glass, and music, can accentuate or soften tastes we once thought we knew.
In addition to the guide, Youssef has created a tasting menu to accompany the drink, featuring onion veloute served in a fragrant dry ice ‘cloud’ of Chivas, and salmon sashimi is topped with ‘caviar’ made from the whisky. Here, Youssef discusses working between the worlds of food and science and shares a unique whisky cocktail recipe.
What interests you about the intersection of food and science? How does your cooking tread the line between the two?
I guess my interest stems from the fact that when you are passionate about something, in my case gastronomy, then you want to explore as many aspects of it as you can. I have an interest in the art, the science, the philosophy and history of gastronomy in all its amazing regional and cultural forms. The two go hand in hand; for me the artistry allows for expression and storytelling, while the science allows us to refine our craft. Both contribute to the creativity in their own ways.
What was your approach to pairing this whisky with a dish?
By studying the aroma profile of Chivas Regal 18 Ultimate Cask Collection First Fill American Oak, I became familiar with the main aroma compounds – caramel, vanilla and orange, which gives this particular expression its distinct character – we began to understand how to pair it. From here we built a picture of ingredients that share similar compound ingredients, which would complement those flavours and make sense. From there it is all trial and error, until we find those truly perfect matches.
What other tasting notes did you pick up on in Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Collection, and how do they complement the dishes you’ve prepared?
For the salmon sashimi dish, we were focusing on the wonderful delicate aromas of the Chivas. We all know how well salmon and smoky flavours work together, and I had thought of using smoked salmon, but then realised we wanted a much lighter and delicate smoke for the salmon, as the Chivas already brings so many of these same notes. So we decided to use fresh salmon sashimi that we cold smoke in its serving dish just before it is presented.
The ‘Chivas caviar’ is made using the new Scotch whisky, and a process known as ‘spherification’. The unique texture of the ‘caviar’ lends an interesting mouth feel and allows the flavours of the Chivas to linger in the mouth and combine directly with the salmon.
The caramelised onion veloute came about as we wanted to highlight the caramel notes in a savoury context. The combination of dark sweet caramelised onion with the Chivas works beautifully. Aside from deglazing the caramelised onions with the Chivas, we also wanted to capture many of the Scotch whisky’s top notes which are lost when it is subjected to higher temperatures. So we captured these aromas by creating a ‘Chivas cloud’, a technique which simply involves warming the Chivas gently and using dry ice.
Can you tell us more about the ‘spherification’ process?
The process involves enriching the Chivas solution we make with calcium, then using a syringe to drip this solution into a water and sodium alginate (natural seaweed extract) solution. When the sodium alginate and calcium come into contact they form a gel membrane around the individual droplets. The Chivas caviar complements this dish by adding a unique texture, allowing it to combine directly with the salmon.
Which of the five senses have you engaged or tried to heighten with the dish of salmon sashimi and Chivas caviar?
The latest academic research shows that anywhere between 80 and 90 per cent of what we perceive as flavour actually comes from our sense of smell. For this particular dish we wanted guests to be mindful of, and engage their sense of smell, appreciate the textures of the fatty ‘melt in your mouth’ salmon and the unique Chivas caviar texture.
How did you go about creating the sensory guide to enjoying Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Collection?
We began by looking at all the sensory aspects stimulated when one is enjoying Chivas. Some aspects are directly focused on the whisky’s attributes (e.g. temperature and dilution), while others are indirect (e.g. shape, weight and texture of the glassware and the environmental factors such as sound and lighting). We explored all these areas and more, looking at how one can truly heighten their appreciation.
How do you hope the guide will change the usual whisky drinking experience?
The guide was developed for those who truly want to heighten their appreciation of the Chivas, and explore its many unique flavours and textures, all of which are impacted by adjustments in temperature, glassware, dilution, lighting, sound, etc. Encouraging such mindfulness towards the sensory details we hope will allow whisky drinkers to find their own personal and unique way of enjoying Chivas.
Whisky cocktail recipe: Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Collection Smash
– 50ml Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Collection First Fill American Oak
– 10ml Vanilla Sugar syrup*
– Eight Mint Leaves
– Crushed ice
– Old Fashioned Glass
– This recipe can be made inside the glass and does not require any additional tools apart from a spoon.
Place the mint leaves in the base of the glass and add the Vanilla Sugar syrup. Stir (without breaking the leaves to allow the mint to infuse into the sugar) for 20 seconds then add the Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Collection First Fill American Oak. Half fill the glass with crushed ice and using a spoon fold the mint from the base and stir slowly allowing the ingredients to mix thoroughly at the same time chilling and diluting the drink. Continue to do this until the ice has become slushy and then fill the glass with more crushed ice. Now the liquid should be almost at the top. Take a large fresh sprig of fresh mint and slap it against the dry palm of your hand to release the oil and freshen up the aroma. Place this into the glass at the top alongside a thin straw. When you sip the drink the fresh aroma should enhance the taste.
Jozef is the founder and chef patron of Kitchen Theory