Keller And Ruhlman: Under Pressure

I went to see Michael Ruhlman and Thomas Keller converse about sous vide at the Astor Center. I think it was worth going to if you didn’t know much about the subject. I have become far more literate on the subject than I had thought.

The space and facilities at Astor Center continue to make for the best venue to attend food related events in New York City. Ruhlman and Keller were fun to watch, even if Ruhlman did occaisionally sound like the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer from Saturday Night Live:

“Mr. Keller, you mean to tell me that you seal food in plastic bags and put them in hot water? Won’t we die of botulism or PVC poisoning? Your modern cooking techniques frighten and confuse me. Which demons did you sell your soul to in order to remove all of the oxygen from that bag.”

Yes, I know, this was a softball so that Keller could hit a home run on the safety answer for a crowd that probably does think like The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. It was still entertaining.

Usually I think of sous vide as a temperature precise poach utilizing vaccuum sealed product. Keller’s definition of sous-vide was broader than that, and slightly more focused on ‘things you can do with vacuum sealing’:


  1. Storage. Everyone is familiar with this. Vacuum sealing is common in food that we buy in grocery stores.
  2. Compression. Utilizing professional vacuum sealers to break down food by putting it under even amounts of pressure. You cannot achieve this with food savers/seal-a-meals.
  3. Marination. Utilizing a vacuum sealed environment to increase the effectiveness and reduce the amount of time of marination.
  4. Cooking. The classic sous-vide definition (see above, or see this post).

Keller is not a fan of seal a meal or foodsaver. Not enough of a seal and can’t handle liquid. He doesn’t recommend them. Of course, he is Thomas-fucking-Keller.

Keller did say that he thinks sous vide for the home will be available in applianceform within 5 years. Which is something I totally agree with. Of course, he has the advantage of having spoken to Kenmore and Viking about the subject.

The book is beautiful, and I am sure I am going to learn a lot when I read the whole thing. At first glance, it isn’t particularly useful for the home chef, even the ones forward thinking enough to own an immersion circulator or a PID controller like Auberins or Fresh Meals Solutions products.

Why? Because the book also makes heavy use of compression, a technique that requires a chamber vacuum sealer, which costs about $2000 and also takes up a fair amount of space. Which is kind of weird, because I am going to guess that about 10% of the audience has a shot of using this cook book. I doubt you are going to see Carol start a ‘Carol Under Pressure’ blog… Drats.

The fact that Keller and Ruhlman wrote this book makes one thing abundantly clear:

Sous vide cookery is simply an idea whose time has come.

3 responses to “Keller And Ruhlman: Under Pressure

  1. I have been using SousVideMagic from freshmealssolutions.com for over 6 months with good results with my commercial Tiger rice cooker. I recently used it to control a rice cooker to dehydrate food items as described in the Alinea book with great results too.
    I found “Under Pressure” temperature settings for many food items too high (= and > than 139F). May be they don’t want to publicly encourage sub 140F cooking for fear of third party liabilities.

  2. That could also just be a preference issue (and of course, some items, like vegetables where most of the interesting things don’t happen until much higher temperatures). Given that his menus at Per Se and French Laundry are prix fixe, they might choose a level of doneness that won’t scare off people who don’t like rare.

    While I think it was possible liability was a concern, I’d think they would remedy that by adjusting the amount of time spent in the waterbath.

  3. Pingback: Food Information Overload « Medellitin

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