An iSi Culinary Ambassador
Louisa Chu is a food consultant, food journalist, and one one of the iSi Culinary Ambassadors. Louisa hosts Chewing the Fat, the WBEZ podcast on food. For contact information, go to louisachu.com.
MEET LOUISA CHU
I grew up in my family’s Chinese-American chop suey restaurants in Chicago. My first job, at the age of four, was folding pale jade green paper menus into long, clean thirds. Soon after, I started cooking, standing on a milk crate, watching over the deep fat fryer bubbling with lard, waiting for golden, crunchy egg rolls to surface. I rarely dipped into our house-made sweet-and-sour sauce, but understood how customers loved the cooling, tart contrast. I preferred the quietly fiery mustard, which we endangered ourselves to mix with Colman’s dry powder from the tin. Later I made my own family meals—fried rice a favorite—picking through our mise en place, cracking a fresh egg here, grabbing a handful of scallions there. From behind the bar, I’d pour ginger ale into hot tea, which drove my grandfather crazy. Working through weekends, holidays, and childhood, I swore to never work in restaurants again. I moved to Los Angeles, but never stopped cooking, especially since we had farmers’ markets all day, and endless, summery, southern California nights to entertain in our bungalow backyard. But after one LA evening out at a wine tasting, the food was so bad I told the shop owners I could do better, so I did. I paired French Champagne with classic gougeres and smoked salmon deviled eggs, plus retro rumaki and miniatures of our egg rolls. I started catering, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed cooking professionally again. Then I met Julia Child, while she was on book tour for the 40th anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Inspired, I attended her alma mater, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. After graduation, and many calls and letters, I staged at Alain Ducasse at the Hotel Plaza Athenee. In my wildest dreams I never imagined a restaurant kitchen or cooking could be like that. It was pristinely clean and air-conditioned, with caviar, foie gras, and white Alba truffles as plentiful as potatoes, carrots, and onions. Later that breathtaking year, I staged at El Bulli. I was amazed by not only my own rekindled wonder, but that of the cooks from around the world with whom I worked too. You must know by now that chef Ferran Adria opened the restaurant only six months per year, closing the other six months for what he called “the creativity.” But before it famously became the World’s Best Restaurant, they had no customers. Ferran and his brother Albert said they’d go days serving one table or two. So instead, they created. It was there that Ferran Adria himself discovered iSi.
LOUISA & ISI
iSi North America President and CEO Rick Agresta once told me that HQ was wondering why some unknown restaurant outside of a small Catalonian resort town was ordering so much product. So they went to see for themselves. In 1994, Ferran made his first espuma: “white bean foam with sea urchins: the first foam.” Ten years later when I apprenticed, it was space camp for cooks. We had liquid nitrogen, a centrifuge, and dozens of iSi whippers. Some had custom tip tubing to make the infamous “2 m of parmesan spaghetto,” a single, long translucent noodle of whey and agar. It was served plated with balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, and black pepper. I prepared this and another Parmigiano Reggiano dish with an Italian cook who worked for the Michelin three-starred chef Massimo Bottura in Modena. He always cursed what we did to his iconic, beloved hometown cheese. When I returned to Chicago, Lavazza introduced Ferran’s Èspesso Espresso at their downtown cafe, for the first time in the country. It is essentially espresso, cream, sugar, and gelatin, set and served in an iSi whipper.
Now as a food consultant and food journalist, my concerns consider not only the delicious but simplicity, sustainability, ethics, and nutrition too. I’ve since made Èspesso, adapting it to my own taste. So I choose ethically sourced cold brew coffee, pastured heavy cream, and real maple syrup, adding American breakfast flavor. Always recycling the chargers, of course. I may inject my American Èspesso into fluffy raised donut holes, occasionally with a shot of whiskey. While I hope to forever discover new child-like wonders, grown-up toys and tastes are sure fun too.
Ferran Adria’s Èspesso for Lavazza uses espresso. I use cold brew coffee concentrate because I prefer the smooth, chocolaty flavor, plus it’s easier, much easier. If you don’t have a cold brew coffee ratio or recipe you like, try mixing one part finely ground coffee to four parts water, then steep for 12 hours minimum. You do not need a cold brew coffee maker. Remember, this recipe uses the concentrate, not the diluted coffee. I do use both weight and volume, because sometimes it’s easier to use one over the other. Try to eyeball the half pouch of gelatin, and if you’re half a gram over or under that’s fine. You can substitute the maple syrup with sugar, use more or to taste. This is a very forgiving recipe.
330 g cold brew coffee concentrate
0.5 pouch (3.5 g) Knox unflavored gelatin
50 g maple syrup
119 g pastured heavy cream
Preparation: Pour 50 ml of cold coffee into an iSi Flex-it 1000-ml (4 cups) measuring cup. Sprinkle half a pouch of Knox unflavored gelatin over it. Let stand for one minute. Pour 50 ml of coffee into Flex-it 250-ml (1 cup) measuring cup. Microwave to boiling. Carefully pour boiling coffee into cold coffee and gelatin mixture. Use an iSi silicone spatula to stir until gelatin dissolves completely. Add remaining coffee, syrup, and cream, and then stir again. Pour mixture through an iSi Funnel & Sieve into a 0.5-L (~17 fl. oz.) iSi whipper. If using a Thermo Whip, chill empty whipper thoroughly first. Charge with one iSi cream charger then shake well. Chill one hour minimum to set. Test for desired consistency. Shake further if firmer texture preferred. Serve.
Serving Suggestion: Dispense to espresso cups, top with whipped cream, sprinkle with cocoa powder, then serve. Or fill yeast-raised donut holes using iSi short 5-mm injector tip, then serve. Optionally add a shot of whiskey or other spirit to whipper before charging. Take care to only fill whipper to maximum fill line. Keep refrigerated.
Stay Tuned! Louisa will be popping up on CreativeWhip.com periodically with updates and recipes to help you make the most of your iSi Whipper System, so stay tuned!