May 3rd 2010 By Amy Loeffler
Pastry chef Michael Laiskonis
has garnered awards from Bon Appétit and the James Beard Foundation, not to mention he's gone head to head on "Iron Chef America" with some of the most competitive culinary talent around. He currently practices his own brand of kitchen Zen Buddhism at Le Bernardin
So, what is this always calm-and-collected king of cool doing talking to us?
Quite possibly exploring the intersection of his prowess with a blow torch and our immature penchant for culinary pyromania
(and, no, we don't mean setting your air biscuits aflame). Here are his tips for handling a concentrated source of heat and also creating instant gratification (i.e., wowing your S.O.).
Weapon of Choice
"There are a lot of small models that are marketed as a kitchen tool. Those usually take butane, but we go for the heavy-duty hardware-store variety. That's usually a nozzle and a propane tank sold separately. We find that those hold up better. And they're usually even less expensive than the nice, little ones that you might find in kitchen-supply places. "
Wow Your S.O. With Tortured Plums
"My favorite application at Le Bernardin is how we use the blow torch with fruits. There's a little plum that comes out in March called the Greengage plum. They're really tiny, green super-sweet plums. We cut them in half and take the pit out and sprinkle them with a tiny dusting of sugar. The blow torch just barely heats the fruit enough so that it makes it incredibly juicy. I've seen this work with peaches, and you could do this with any stone fruit, like cherries."
Use Common Sense
Handle your torch with: "Any common sense you would use with fire or things under pressure. Because we use it so much [at the restaurant] it just becomes an extension of our hand, but it is obviously a very concentrated heat source. We also use general safety in using a pressurized canister. We try not to drop it. We make sure that the nozzle, the threads aren't worn out. We replace ours every few months."
The Raw and the Cooked
What to cook with your blow torch: "I've seen people attempt to cook proteins with blow torches, especially really delicate things like raw fish. You can put a really quick sear on tuna just by hitting it with a blow torch. I've also seen people take a whole piece of meat that would traditionally have been roasted or braised, skipping that step and caramelizing and developing the color on the outside with a blow torch and then roasting it for several hours."