Smoke it, Eat it – Pyrolysis



I have never really understood the original ideas behind fusion cuisine that gave it such a bad reputation. When Wolfgang Puck arrived to California in the early 1980’s, the Austrian born opened Spago. The popularity of Spago was his open kitchen, and mostly his celebrity clientele. I never liked the food and couldn’t understand it. The restaurant buzzed with gourmet pizzas topped with caviar and lax – gauche fusion cuisine.

He operates three steak restaurants namely “CUT” in L.A, London and Singapore. I have been to two. In Singapore, I recall raising the coloration of burned vegetables, so the chef came out to the table. He wasn’t argumentative, neither helpful and claimed that they weren’t burned. I wish I had taken a photo.

The meat shown above was displayed in the Los Angeles restaurant. Their meat is grilled in an open styled kitchen using both charcoal and then finished in a salamander at 650 degrees centigrade. Unfortunately at these temperatures their meats get quickly charred, and the outer layer of the meat is burned.

This is a topic I continue to research to give readers a better understanding of the difference between charred foods and foods that are colored by the Maillard reaction. In most foods the Maillard reaction begins at 90 Centigrade and as the temperature rises to 130 Centigrade you optimize the color and flavors compounds.

The one obstacle of Maillard is moisture (at the surface) so you can experiment with different methods to eliminate the water droplets to gain faster more consistent coloration. When you saute vegetables the surface can get dried out very quickly, so careful attention to temperature is key. In a restaurant such as CUT, they would be better off to prepare the vegetables in advance and later heat them with a microwave. It works and is a good solution. Alternatively, when I was in Seattle, I tried to cook a steak with liquid nitrogen, freezing the water, we then fried the surface by submerging it into hot oil. It worked perfectly.

The problem in typical kitchens is high heat charring removes hydrogen and oxygen so that the remaining charring is composed primarily of carbon. Grilling protein foods creates two kinds of dangerous compounds that may contribute to cancer: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HCA form in meat when it’s cooked at high temperatures, and the charred bits at the edges of barbecued meat contain HCAs in their purest state. HCA, which are also found in cigarette smoke, have been shown to cause cancer in organs including the stomach, colon, liver and skin but only in animal studies. It’s unclear whether HCAs cause the same problems in people.

PAH, the second type of compound, are formed when juices from meat drip onto coals and create smoke. The smoke can contains carcinogens, which are deposited onto the surface of meat as it swirls around the food.

There are many debates about this topic and many opinions but it is true that grilling at high temperatures does cause chemical reactions that could be harmful to humans.