Mark Ladner: Al Dente: When Plastic Meets Elastic, Science and Cooking Public Lecture Series 2014
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[SIZZLING] MICHAEL BRENNER: OK, so this
week, the topic is elasticity, texture and mouth-feel elasticity. And someone was asking elasticity is. And elasticity is the fact that your
hand is squishy and the floor is not. That’s elasticity. And you can’t eat the
floor, because it’s hard, but your hand– well,
at least, I don’t know. Pasta, though, you can eat pasta. Last week in the Harvard College
class, we had our first lab. And the lab actually, it
turns out, was about pasta. The students made
pasta puttanesca, which is a wonderful recipe
that was introduced in this wonderful book, The
Series of Unfortunate Events. And the students cooked pasta
in various different ways. So for example, one way to
cook pasta is to boil the water and pour the pasta in. Another way to cook pasta is to not
boil the water and put the pasta in. And there are lots of questions
you could ask like, for example, does it matter if you boil the water
first before you put the pasta in? Actually, one thing that I
think Mark will talk about is suppose you try to cook
your pasta in the microwave. Will that work? How many of you cook
pasta in the microwave? None of you, see? So why is that? Is it because none of us know about
this wonderful secret of microwaves or is that you actually can’t
cook pasta in the microwave? So you see, there are lots of questions
that you can ask about these recipes. Now, our lab was inspired
by a wonderful article that Harold McGee wrote in The New
York Times about five years ago, in which he asks, how much water
does it really take to make pasta? Because these pasta boxes– for
example, I’ll just– this one. Look at this. This says, for four– where’s
the box– it says use six quarts of water per one pound of pasta. That’s a lot of water. Have you noticed? Do you really need that much water? He says, no. Then why did the box tell you
to put that much water in? So anyway, that’s what
Harold talks about and he actually estimates
the energy savings that we take in the
United States if you were to just use the right amount
of water, for crying out loud, which is an interesting thing. Anyway, last year in the HarvardX class,
we did a little experiment actually, because Herald also talks in this
article about how you don’t even need to boil the water. How many of you boil the
water before you make pasta? Yeah. Does anyone not? So the question is, why do you do that? Just because the box said? So we did this little
experiment and I’m going to just show you a little bit of the data. This is data that was
taken off early on. And right after we put it
up in the HarvardX class, we asked people to please make pasta
both ways and judge whether or not they thought it tasted
the same, just to judge. And we had a poll. And so by that point,
we had 395 responses. And basically 50% of
the people said that it didn’t matter which way you cook it. That is if you boiled the
water first or you didn’t. So you should all go home
and try to make pasta without boiling the water first. And also, stop taking
the recipe so seriously. Is that a bad thing to say? MARK LADNER: Yes. No, that’s right. MICHAEL BRENNER: Is that bad? That’s OK? I’m always embarrassed
when I say things like this in front of people who
know what they’re doing, because maybe you should
take them seriously. So now, elasticity– I just
have a couple more things to say and then I’ll turn it over to Mark. Now, elasticity is of central
importance to cooking. And we were really
very excited when Mark agreed to come and be
the chef for this week, both because the food truck
is the coolest thing ever and because gluten-free pasta, that is,
making pasta or actually any baked good without gluten really gets at
the core of the issue in thinking about elasticity and cooking. And that’s because as we will tell
you and as Mark will tell you, gluten is a protein
or really two proteins which are the core elastic element
in making baked goods and pasta. And when you ask yourself, how do
I recreate a dish without using it, then you’ve basically thrown
it all out of the window. And you have to really figure out what
you’re doing when you put it together, which is the intellectual issue that
I think underlies this lecture, yes? Well, we’ll see. MARK LADNER: Yes. MICHAEL BRENNER: I
haven’t heard the lecture. MARK LADNER: Partially, partially. MICHAEL BRENNER: Partially. But the thing is that
controlling elasticity is central to all of cooking. And just to throw up some more
examples for you to think about, you all know that some of you like
steak very well-done and some of you like it not so well-done. And what many of you
might know is what people call the thumb test, which is
that if you’re cooking a steak and you want to find out how
well-done it is, what you do is you just push on it. And If it’s really squishy,
then it’s not very well-done and if it’s not very squishy,
then it is well-done. Well, that’s a measurement
that you’re making with your hand of the elasticity
of the steak, which you’re doing which changes as a function of
the temperature inside of the steak, because there are transitions in
the proteins in the steak that cause it to firm up. So the same issue occurs with cheeses. And so the question is
how to quantify that. And this, as you know, for better or
for worst– well, I’m a scientist. Pia is a scientist. We’re scientists and so we
basically ruin everything. Well, you don’t ruin everything
but I ruin everything. And so instead of this beautiful cheese
and you should squish on the cheese or you can squish on the
steak, we think about springs. And the thing is if you squish on
the spring, it’s the same thing. You have to push on
it and it reacts back. How many of you have
taken a physics class? And remember, they told
you about these things and you thought it was the worst
thing that ever happened to you. But the thing is that really,
if you think about cooking tofu, it’s just like a spring. If you squish on soft tofu, then it’s
squishy and firm tofu isn’t so squishy. So you’re just measuring the
spring constant of a spring. And in fact, the way I think of
a steak– this is sort of a joke but it’s not totally wrong–
is that a steak basically is just a network of springs. And if you imagine it
as a network of springs, the most important parameter
in the network of springs is the bond length, the
length between the springs, because they’re little springs. You can’t see them. This is a cartoons thing. And so anyway, in honor of that,
the equation of the week this week is the following. It’s this number e, which scientists
call the elastic modulus, which measures how squishy something is. And it’s equal to some energy over
l cubed, where l is the bond length. So you all have to clap– [APPLAUSE] –because that’s the
equation of the week. And the amazing thing
about this equation is that it can be used to think
about the elasticity in foods as diverse as steak, tofu,
pasta, pretty much anything, cake, whatever you’d like. And the reason that things
are more or less elastic is there are really only two options. You either increase u, which
is how strong the bonds are, or you decrease l, which is
how small the springs are. And those are the two
options you’ve got. And so at least when I listen
to Mark– actually when I’m about to listen to
Mark, what I’m going to be thinking to myself among other
things is, how is he controlling u? How is he controlling
the bond strengths? How is he controlling the
distance between the bonds? And that’s really the issue. Now, this is a picture
of the food truck. This is Pasta Flyer. And of course, this story
is going to be about gluten. I’m not going to say anything about this
other than to say that gluten basically makes a network, which
basically gives pasta and bread and things like that its elasticity. And the l basically that
happens there is essentially the distance between the
cross-links of the gluten molecules. And Mark, I think today, at
least among other things, is going to tell us how
one can make baked goods or in this case pasta which
feel the same way in your mouth but have no gluten, which
is really an amazing thing. So I think with that, I’ll stop. And let’s clap, because you’re done with
me and now you get to listen to Mark. [APPLAUSE] MARK LADNER: Hello, good evening. How are you? AUDIENCE: Good. MARK LADNER: Very excited to be here. I’d like to think David and
Pia for their warm hospitality. They let me mess around in the
food science labs yesterday and I didn’t cause too much trouble. So I’m here to discuss certainly
elasticity, but more specifically how it relates to
plasticity and how we are able produce this elusive texture
referred to as “al dente,” which is somewhere in the middle. First, I’d like to introduce my
distinguished colleague, Carlos Rodriguez. Carlos is the pasta master at Del Posto. And he was kind enough to come
here and lend his gentle touch. So we’re going to do a
couple of experiments. So I just wanted to
clarify a couple things. Al dente is a toothsome firmness
that gives way to a rewarding chew. It’s firm but it’s also chewy. So it’s plastic and it’s also elastic. The kind of stuff we’re
going to talk about today is my favorite, which is dry pasta,
which, contrary to popular belief, for the most part is the
pasta we refer to when we throw around terms like al dente. I’m not sure if it’s possible
to make fresh pasta al dente. You can make it all sorts
of different textures but al dente I don’t believe is one
of them, unless you dry it partially. So plastic is basically the state
that this pasta is in right now. So it’s a fragile snap
produced in the pasta from the drying technique, which we’re
going to get into a little later. And then, the elastic,
the elasticity, is the stretchy pull produced by the
re-hydration of the dried product. So this is my mom. I believe she’s with Ric Ocasek, a
very popular Bostonian from the ’80s. I actually grew up in the town next to
Belmont, Massachusetts, and I spent– [CLAPPING] Thank you very much. I spent many of my formative years
running around causing trouble in Harvard Square, as a matter of fact. So my first employment was
in fact in Harvard Square. I worked at a pizzeria
right on Church Street, which is that way in the Atrium
building, which in the ’80s was quite popular. It was a sort of California-style
wood-burning oven. But there was also a quick-service pasta
concept that was commissary driven, which is very similar to what I’m
trying to do with Pasta Flyer. I guess my first
introduction to the texture, the very rewarding
texture of al dente, was introduced to me through the salad bar. There was a restaurant on 33 Dunster
Street, which is in the basement. And they had a very famous salad bar. It was called 33 Dunster. [LAUGHTER] And I was a big fan, big fan. so the thing about the
chickpea, which sort of led me to this quick-service pasta,
is that no matter where you go, no matter where you buy it, a
chickpea in a can is always perfect. I don’t know why. It’s the most elusive thing. How they managed to do
that all around the world, no matter the brand, no
matter the deli or whatever– and no matter the chickpea. You open one can and every one
seems to be about the same. So it has a distinct plasticity
that than sort of gives way to this really satisfying chewiness
that’s not quite al dente in the pasta context, but people do often refer to
the texture of a properly-cooked legume also as al dente. So that was sort of my first
frame of reference there. At Del Posto, which is the restaurant
where I’m the chef in Manhattan, I’ve been working for the last
10 years, almost 10 years. And it’s a fine dining
Italian restaurant that focuses not only but very much on
pasta, which is my first love and joy. And Carlos and I work
very closely together trying to come up with
interesting textures for pasta. Pasta, for the most part,
until very recently, was exclusively made from wheat. And wheat is something that’s
certainly been around forever, Mesopotamia and the Cradle
of Life, and all that. So wheat is essentially
just a wild grass. And throughout time, it’s always been
an important staple of civilization. At many points, it was also
considered to be currency. From what I understand, the
Roman legions at a point were actually paid with
farrow or emmer, which was the second type of cultivated wheat. So at this point, wheat has
been cultivated and produced into everything from
food to booze to fuel. In the world today, rice would be the
number-one produced grain followed by corn, primarily
because of animal feed, and then wheat being the third
most-produced grain in the world. The thing that’s interesting
about wheat and the way that we’ve manipulated it
over time or several millennia is that the wheat kernel
has three parts to it. It has the endosperm, which
is the majority of its size, and then the bran and the germ, which
has all the vitamins, all the minerals, and all the protein. So the endosperm is
primarily only starches. So in our culture today, most
refined white wheat or anything short of semolina– so baking
flour, cake flour, double zero flour, all-purpose flour–
is all just endosperm. So it doesn’t really have any
nutritional component at all, which is unfortunate and kind of strange. There’s been a lot of talk recently
about gluten-free and celiac disease, which is actually not an allergy. It’s an immune deficiency
disease that causes people to be unable to digest the gliadin in gluten. So we’re going to talk about flour
and the magic of combining it with water, which seems so
strange that these two completely different and dissimilar and in
no way related products produce this magical bond that can be
formed and manipulated into so many different shapes and figures. Going back thousands of years,
people were baking water and flour of some sort on a hot rock. It was probably closer to something
like clay or papier mache, not something you would really want to eat. Also, it had very little pliability
and certainly not very appetizing. The other interesting
thing about wheat is that primarily, we are cultivating
only six types of wheat. And the majority are a
red or amber-colored wheat that is quite high in protein. But then again, we strip away most
of that protein from the kernel. So high-protein flour, being
semolina or durum wheat– so it’s a durum wheat kernel that
we’re cultivating– is high in protein because it has the bran and the germ,
but it’s very, very low in gluten, so it doesn’t bond well. That’s often used in pasta for these
dry shapes and also for fresh shapes, like an orecchiette
or a cavatelli, things like that that have a very nice
texture, although I wouldn’t necessarily call it al dente. A soft wheat, which is double
zero flour, which is again just the endosperm, is
often used for fresh pasta to lend more of a
pliability, more silkiness. It also allows it to stretch, so that
for example, with a stuffed pasta, you can pull it over the
stuffing, which is quite helpful. We also sometimes use
eggs, which is really just another way of introducing
water to the recipe. So this is really interesting. In the 17th century in Naples,
that was the first time when the working class
finally had access to pasta as a main part of their diet. They could actually afford to eat it. Distribution channels had
become sophisticated enough where they could actually get
it from places like Sicily to places like Naples. I have actually taken that
ferry and it is scary. [LAUGHTER] Invention of the
mechanized press is what allowed people to finally be able to
enjoy fresh dried pasta as a staple. At that point, most of the
aristocracy that was enjoying pasta, even further north in
Germany and Austria, was often consuming it
as more of a side dish, certainly with a much
larger portion of protein, whereas in the south, particularly south
of Rome around the time when Garibaldi started to unify the peninsula
of Italy, people from the north were often referring to the people
from the south as “pasta eaters.” So it was a derogatory term at the time. But the thing that’s really
interesting is at that point, we started to see this really,
really interesting process, which was sort of the first part
of the industrialization of this sort of pasta, where there
was a pre-drying and a post-drying. When it’s extruded here–
so this is a hopper. So we’re going to put the dry
ingredients and water in here. You spin it around a bit. You heat up this extrusion chamber,
ideally to less than 125 degrees, but not much less. And you’ll see that
it starts to coalesce and the process of extruding it
through torque and pressure and heat will push out a shape like this. And then, what they do is they
will start– at that point, it’s extruded out about– so
this is a semolina fusilli. And then, this– sorry. This is what we’re using on
the truck, so this is a brand that I am quite fond of right now. It’s called Bionaturae. It’s from Lucca. And this is produced from rice, which
is the most common gluten-free pasta grain. Also potato and soy, which
is somewhat unfortunate, because when you deal with
allergens, soy has become something that people are intolerant to. And also, potato is a nightshade,
so certain individuals prefer not to consume that. So it’s coming out of
here at about 31% water. And you want to dry it to be
shelf-stable like this to about 12.5%. Percent So what they do is
they do it in two stages. In the first stage, they bring it from
31% to somewhere between 18% and 22%. And this is called the
pre-drying and they do it at a much higher temperature,
often over 150 degrees. And the main purpose of that
is simply to create a barrier on just the very
exterior of the extrusion so that the shapes don’t stick together. So especially in industrial
production, they’re producing so many of these little guys. And I do it on such a small level. In fact, in the lab yesterday, I
spent a good portion of the morning today trying to separate
them from one another. So you can understand the
advantage of this technique. After that, they’ll dry it
for a much longer period of time at a much lower temperature
until it gets to the 12.5%. And now, this is shelf-stable
for an infinite amount of time, providing that it’s not too humid or
it gets wet or something like that. You very rarely see pasta
that’s dry like this with egg, although sometimes I’m sure
you’ve seen– sometimes there’s fettuccine, for example, that
comes in these little nests and is dried. It’s often used in other parts of
Europe for beef stroganoff, for example. So they’re more like buttered noodles. Those often have egg and I rediscovered
them recently and they are very nice. I’ve become a fan recently. They cook really fast. They rarely stick together,
which is a huge advantage and one of my pet peeves. Often, if you buy a string pasta
that’s wider, like a fettuccine, for example, in a box, it’s pretty
much guaranteed to stick to each other. And that is very frustrating,
because then it won’t cook evenly. That’s one of the reasons
why they create pasta like this with these
shapes and ridges, or what they refer to as “rigate,”
which is ridges on the outside. They’ll often sell it with
the advantage that sauce sticks to it better because of the
grooves, which may or may not be true. But the truth of the
matter is that they’re less likely to stick to each other. So again, the advantage
of egg is that you can create something that’s much
more pliable, much more elastic. And what you’re essentially doing is
using the egg, the protein and the fat but also the water in the
egg as an alternative source to help make the dough or the batter. Two things that Carlos is
going to demonstrate here is that we have a couple
different types of flour. So Carlos really like to use
warmer water, not hot but generally around 85 degrees. We learn this also from pizza-making,
because you want to bloom the yeast, if you use especially
dry-active yeast, which is another excellent
example of elasticity. But you don’t want to kill the yeast,
so 85 is a pretty normal temperature. With fresh pasta, you want
the strength and the bite from the durum and semolina, but
you need the double zero flour for higher protein but
also for better elasticity. So he’s going to make a mixture of
three flours in this particular case. The other flour that we like to
use is this amazing invention invented by Thomas Keller and
his food scientist, Lena Kwak, and it’s called Cup 4 Cup. And the advantage to
this specific flour– although there are others
maybe similar to it, like it on the market, this one– the main
advantage, particularly for home cooks, is that it really suggests that
you can substitute one cup of this for one cup of any other flour that you
would use in your normal baking or home recipes, which is amazing
because who of us has time to re-imagine recipes at home? Although there’s three separate
flours here that Carlos is using, they’re all essentially the same thing. Some of them have more endosperm. Some of them have more
bran and germ, but they’re all from red winter
durum wheat, whereas this is white rice, brown rice, tapioca,
potato, milk powder, xantham that’s derived from both corn and soy. So there’s a lot of other
ingredients in this. The main point that I’m trying to
suggest is that wheat flour is magic, because this one thing– this is still
just a facsimile trying to mimic that and there needs to be eight or
nine ingredients to get it done. This is an experiment that
we made yesterday in the lab. So this is– you can start. You want to get some water? We have some water in the back. He’s bringing it? OK, great. So the thing that’s interesting
about these two doughs is that Carlos is– do
you want some more space? Carlos is actually going to
make the gluten dough first, which actually comes together as a
ball, whereas the gluten-free dough is the Cup 4 Cup plus water. It’s much more granular
and it doesn’t actually become cohesive until it starts to
go through the extrusion chamber. Feel free to go. So this is the experiment
we did yesterday. So this is Cup 4 Cup and water. And the thing that’s interesting is
that although they look completely different, they’re exactly the same. And the only difference between
these two is that this was air-dried and this was cooked and then air-dried. This– and we’ll pass these cups
around for you– is exactly the same. The thing that’s
interesting about this is that this is completely shelf-stable,
but it’s not very strong and it’s not very good for transport,
whereas this is shelf-stable. But also, what we’re suggesting here
today is that this can be made al dente and it’s gluten-free and this cannot. This remains plastic and
we haven’t figured out how to cross over to more of that
elastic texture that produces the al dente that we’re looking for. AUDIENCE: What was that made from? MARK LADNER: This is made
from the Cup 4 Cup flour. They both are. The other thing that’s
interesting is I looked into buying one of these
pasta dryers, which allegedly are quite different from a dehydrator. This machine costs
$20,000 minimum and you have to dry a minimum of a
couple hundred pound of pasta at a time, which I just
don’t have any use for. I would like to one day. If you keep going to
Pasta Flyer truck, I might actually need to do that one
day, but probably not for a while. So there’s these two types of drying. One is that it pulls the moisture
from the product, which then circulates the product as moist air. And then, a dehydrator just pulls
the moisture from the product and then it dissipates into the air. So it doesn’t produce as
consistently dry a product. If you look at this really
closely when we pass it around, you’ll see there’s a lot of stress
on the surface of the pasta. Although it’s perfectly
safe, it’s not like this, which was done by a professional. Some say– and Professor
Brenner, I think you’ll appreciate this– I read some
stuff yesterday as a matter of fact, for the first time, that some claim that
the salt is the trick that pushes it from plastic to elastic and it can’t be
done without salt, which I don’t know. Whenever I cook pasta, I salt
it saltier than seawater. The sort of prescribed ratio of
salting water is one liter of water equals 100 grams of pasta, which is
the international sophisticated serving size, if you’re eating
something other than just pasta, equal to 10 grams of salt. So 10 grams of salt
to one liter of water produces enough salinity that
you can flavor your pasta. MICHAEL BRENNER: So this is
in the pasta that’s cooked. It’s not in the dough. MARK LADNER: It’s in the water. MICHAEL BRENNER: It’s in the water. MARK LADNER: Yeah. So I salt much, much higher
than that, as much as 15% of the water, which is saltier
than seawater, the danger being that you can then not drag any of
that cooking liquid into your saucepan, especially if it’s in combination
with, for example, rendered cured pork product or really salty aged
cheeses, specifically sheep’s milk, which tends to be a
lot saltier and leaner than Parmigiano-Reggiano, which
is fatter because it’s cow’s milk. But it lends a really nice
emulsifying characteristic to sauces. So that was sort of unusual. I didn’t know that. Oh, wow. So check this out. So we often rest this. The main advantage I would
say to resting this right now is that because
it’s really tight, it’s going to heat the stem
past 125 too soon. So I think we should rest this
and you can go on the Cup 4 Cup, and then we’ll try to
extrude that first. So when you see Carlos mix this
recipe, it’s– I’ll grab that. It requires a certain touch and
Carlos is incredibly nimble. You wouldn’t know necessarily
from looking at him, but he has a touch like
I very rarely find, where he can be both forceful
and gentle simultaneously, which is a crucial skill. It’s a crucial skill. [WHISTLES] Yeah, exactly, exactly, exactly. You’ve got to go through me. [LAUGHTER] He’s got a full card. Oh, that’s the truck. Those are some of my
very kind sponsors that helped us get to Harvard, Breville,
which makes this lovely microwave, and Bionaturae, which is this incredible
pasta that you should really try. You can buy it even at Whole Foods. And it’s incredibly resilient, which is
one of the reasons I like it so much. You can cook it and then you can
hold it and it doesn’t carry over. So you can actually suspend
al dente, which has always been a really difficult thing to do. Well, that sort of elusive toothsomeness
that’s halfway between or somewhere between plasticity and elasticity
is where the pasta is fully cooked. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. If there is a pearl or if there is a
spirit of that white part in the center of the pasta, that is not al dente. That is crunchy and
that’s something else. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some people, particularly Sicilians
that I’ve known, really like that. They refer to it as
“il paco” or something, like right out of the package. So they only cook it
for a couple of minutes. It’s pretty cool. I happen to like really,
really firm pasta, but it does need to be cooked
all the way through, just through but all the way. If you can suspend that texture
for more than a few minutes, you’re onto something. You’re onto something,
because I’ve actually had pasta– like these are
bronze die, for example, that Carlos is extruding through. But more mass-produced pastas,
this is sort of middle of the road, although it’s my favorite. Something like maybe Prince or
Ronzoni, some of the American ones that don’t have the same sort of
appreciation for Italian authenticity, will use either nylon or Teflon
die, which produce a smoother edge but they last much longer. So you don’t need to
replace the die, which can become quite expensive
when you’re dealing with really large pieces of equipment. So we’ve got this really
strange– so there’s a big difference between this and this. This is kind of like ricotta cheese
And this is really nice, too. So we’re not going to–
this will definitely heat up the stem really quickly, though. Often in more
industrially-produced extruders, they’ll water-cool these chambers so
that they’re not able to get very hot. They’ll run them for days. Yes? MICHAEL BRENNER: Can I ask a question? MARK LADNER: Sure. MICHAEL BRENNER: So
I think it’s amazing. The dough is crumbly, but the
pasta doesn’t look crumbly. MARK LADNER: It is, though,
because it’s been forced together, but it’s pure will. MICHAEL BRENNER: Can I see? Can I see? MARK LADNER: Feel it. MICHAEL BRENNER: Wow. But it’s really– MARK LADNER: But it just comes apart. It doesn’t have any– MICHAEL BRENNER: Look at this. MARK LADNER: It doesn’t
have any stretch. MICHAEL BRENNER: It’s terrible. [LAUGHTER] MARK LADNER: But if you
cook it immediately, it gelatinizes and then it has pull. MICHAEL BRENNER: Huh. MARK LADNER: But you have
to cook it immediately. MICHAEL BRENNER: Right. MARK LADNER: Yeah. MICHAEL BRENNER: This is
why gluten is amazing. MARK LADNER: I know, exactly. So the thing I wanted to talk
about in reference to Pasta Flyer, but more importantly, Del
Posto– for quite some time, one of our primary challenges
has been dietary restriction, which is a very subjective thing. Some people clearly
are allergic to things. And other people are intolerant to
things, which can also be dangerous. And it’s absolutely their prerogative
to choose to put safe food in their body or what’s safe for themselves. So it’s made our jobs as chefs in the
service and hospitality industry much, much more challenging. And this is something that’s
maybe happened in the last probably five years. So with dietary restrictions–
so celiac disease is a disease. It’s not an allergy. A dietary restriction
is something that’s an intolerance, that people prefer
not to put things in their body that they don’t respond well to, which
is perfectly rational and logical. And then, there’s the fad, which
is a dietary preference which is very subjective. But to me as a food service
provider, it doesn’t matter. I really don’t care. We take all intolerances
and all dietary restrictions with the same level of seriousness. So that’s how we started to
develop our gluten-free pasta. So currently at Del Posto, every
single pasta on our pasta menu– I believe there’s maybe
12 or 13– we also have an identical gluten-free version
that’s available to anyone at any time. So one of the challenges we
ran into is that because we’re such a large restaurant, we often do
large tables, so eight and 10-tops. Just by the law of averages,
it’s more likely there’s going to be people at this table that
are unable to eat certain things. So we’ve designed it
into the menu where we are able to offer them a
gluten-free pasta that’s exactly the same at the exact
same time in a seamless way that allows them to enjoy the same
level of service and hospitality as everyone else. Yes? AUDIENCE: How do you deal with the
challenge of cross-contamination? MARK LADNER: We use all
different equipment, everything– different water,
different utensils, all the equipment. We’re not a medical facility and
we’re not gluten-free certified. But a lot of people suffering from
celiac disease have eaten at Del Posto and haven’t gotten sick yet. [LAUGHTER] But today could be the day. Who knows? So that brought us to Pasta Flyer. My partner Nastassia
suggested– and she’s brilliant in her
deductive reasoning– when you’re trying to do something in
a really, really small footprint and you’re trying to make
safe food for people, it’s impossible to have
a 100-square-foot kitchen and produce gluten and
gluten-free food and expect it not to be cross-contaminated. So we chose to put all of our effort
into trying to create the absolute best gluten-free pasta to the point
where hopefully no one would notice. We haven’t quite achieved that yet,
but we’re getting there, right, Carlos? So that’s our goal is
to produce something that people won’t necessarily notice. Fortunately, most of our
competition is really bad, so we feel like we
have a good opportunity to get a little bit of the market share. Places like Olive Garden
or Sbarro or Familia, they don’t really
approach food production with the same level of
standards that maybe I would. Ask any of my former cooks
and sous-chefs over here. They’ll tell you. I’m a dick. [LAUGHTER] OK, so we’re going to
go over this process really quickly before we finish. So do you have more of the water? So we combine the flour with the
water and put it into the hopper. We extrude it. We cook it immediately
in heavily salted water. We then shock it in
heavily salted ice water, so that we don’t lose any of
salinity that we just put in it. And then, we dry it in a
dehydrator at around 140 degrees. It’s just a home version. It’s very crude but it’s
effective, at least when you’re making quantities like this. All right, here we go. So this is the one that
has not been pre-cooked. So we’re going to put it on just to
be safe so you can see the process. We’re going to put it
on for two minutes. Sometimes, it can only take a minute,
but because this bowl is pretty large and also the water wasn’t that hot,
it will take a little bit longer. If it’s boiling, it
will take one minute. If it’s room temperature or tap
water, it can sometimes take over two. Also, if you put more
than one vessel in, you have to add around 30 seconds
for each additional vessel. So the microwave oven is a very
misunderstood piece of equipment. I’m suggesting that it can make
gluten-free pasta al dente, but that you can’t make gluten
pasta taste very good at all. And I don’t know why that is, but that’s
one of the other advantages to Pasta Flyer being gluten-free. So see, it’s starting to go here. Put it on the thing. But there’s some action in there. It almost looks like a sponge. It looks like yeast. However, this pasta is not changing. It’s still only plastic. So that means when you bite it,
it will have a fragile, sort of crumbly, pasty texture. So I usually let it sit
for about two minutes and it’s actually soaking
up some of this water, so that’s improving the
yield and re-hydrating it. MICHAEL BRENNER: Is it done, Mark? MARK LADNER: I don’t know. You can be the judge. MICHAEL BRENNER: So I don’t
know if any of you believe this. Why should cooking pasta in
the microwave be different? MARK LADNER: See, look at that. Look at how gluey that is. MICHAEL BRENNER: Can I see it? MARK LADNER: See how
much goo is on this? It looks like tapioca. So it’s cooked. It kind of tastes like oatmeal. [LAUGHTER] So now, we’re going to try this
one, see if it’s any better. Oh god, I hope this works. [LAUGHTER] Is this hot? CARLOS RODRIGUEZ: Yes, Chef. MARK LADNER: So one thing
for sure is I’m going to try to make this seal stronger. Also, it’s strange. Plastic wrap– Saran wrap that
you buy in a grocery store is completely different from the
stuff that we use in restaurants and I’m not sure why that is. We’re never going to get this off. All right. So now, we’re in business. So this is going to
create a nice seal here, because we made sure to
use a lot of plastic wrap. Right. Now, we have something
that looks like pasta. Maybe one more minute,
but yeah, there’s bubbles. It’s doing stuff. But it’s just flour and water. MICHAEL BRENNER: If you don’t cover
it with plastic wrap, it doesn’t work? MARK LADNER: I have these silicone
mats that do the same thing. MICHAEL BRENNER: But if you
don’t cover it, it doesn’t work? MARK LADNER: Not as well. This will be chewy. MICHAEL BRENNER: Right. MARK LADNER: This is just a mess. I don’t know what this is. When we first started this–
I’ve been working on this project for a little more than three years. So in the beginning, we thought
it was going to be so great. We thought we were going to freeze-dry
it and make it like a packing peanut and then just rehydrate it
in tap water or something, like space astronaut food. So we took a pasta like this and we
went to the store in the Berkshires. It was in Great Barrington. And they specialized
in organic pet food. And it was this huge facility,
maybe 5,000 square feet, and they had this big
giant freeze dryer, one of the very, very few in
the Northeast and certainly the only one that would let
a knucklehead like me in. And so we cooked it. We overcooked it. We froze-dried it. We came by a week later. We took a 10-minute pasta drop,
turned it into a 15-minute pasta drop, because freeze-dry goes all
the way to zero water, zero. So back to the drawing board, right? What else did we try? All right. So now, we have something
that really looks like pasta. Want to try? MICHAEL BRENNER: Sure. [LAUGHTER] MARK LADNER: Seriously. It doesn’t have enough salt. MICHAEL BRENNER: Pasta. MARK LADNER: It’s not al dente, though. MICHAEL BRENNER: For me, it is. I’m not a sophisticated guy. [LAUGHTER] It’s good. There’s no gluten. MARK LADNER: No gluten. MICHAEL BRENNER: Wow. That’s pretty amazing. MARK LADNER: So I got– MICHAEL BRENNER: Serious. [LAUGHTER] Seriously, this is amazing. And that’s with that flour over there. MARK LADNER: These are the same. This is exactly the same pasta. MICHAEL BRENNER: Huh. That looks terrible. MARK LADNER: Well, the thing is
that also, once this was cooked, so you basically rinsed
off half of that goo. So this has a really nice
texture, but it’s not al dente. But I think a lot of people
would still find it appetizing. MICHAEL BRENNER: No,
I think that’s good. MARK LADNER: So try it at home. It’s safe. It’s not expensive. [APPLAUSE]

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