Local chefs study sous vide techniques in workshop

From left, Nico Romo of Fish, Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary and Kevin Johnson of The Grocery puzzle out sous vide techniques.

When Nico Romo was ordering supplies for a sous vide workshop he recently organized for fellow chefs, he figured he could get away with purchasing lesser-quality seafood than he’d serve at Fish Restaurant.

“The fish, it looked all right, but then when we made it sous vide, we were like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Romo says. “That’s what sous vide is. It makes everything stronger. So if fish is not fresh, it’s really not fresh. But if you have a really good watermelon, it’s insane.”

Sous vide, which involves sealing an ingredient in a plastic bag and placing it in a water bath until it reaches a target temperature, was first championed by molecular chefs who used the technique to extract previously unimaginable flavors from beef and eggs. But as the practice has become more accessible, an increasing number of restaurants are relying on sous vide to invigorate their dishes.

Romo was first introduced to sous vide in 2011, when he took a class with Bruno Goussault, a 74-year-old scientist sometimes referred to as “the father of sous vide.” Romo recently arranged for Goussault to reprise the workshop in Charleston, partly because he wanted his chef de cuisine and sous chef to learn the method. Then he decided to invite a few friends: The Fish crew was joined by chefs Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope of FIG, Frank Lee of Halls Management Group, Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh, Kevin Johnson of The Grocery and Jason Rheinwald of The Ocean Room for three daylong sessions at Lowndes Grove.

At Bacon’s urging, Romo also invited a representative of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control so the agency could develop informed strategies for code enforcement, since the intricacies of sous vide aren’t covered by traditional protocol.

“They could see what we learn, and they were really impressed,” Romo says. “It’s a good partnership.”

According to Romo, many of the participating chefs were interested in using sous vide to maintain quality and control portion size when they’re called away from the kitchen.

“It kills a lot of the human error, because there’s no overcooking,” says Romo, who relies on sous vide when he’s asked to prepare 60 lobster tails for an event.

But the chefs also explored the flavor dimensions of sous vide cooking, and invited Goussault into their restaurants to show off what they had learned. At FIG, Stanhope prepared a sous vide duck egg for the group.

“Bruno, when you talk to him, he says he’s not a chef, he’s just a scientist, but he’s probably the best chef we’ve ever met,” Romo says, adding that Goussault always demurs when asked for cooking advice. “He’s like, ‘I don’t care. You’re the chef. You’re the creator.’ He’s amazing.”

Many chefs who haven’t studied sous vide don’t appreciate that the technique is compatible with pan-searing. “So you still have golden crisp,” Romo says. Many of the dishes on his current menu are the product of sous vide, including the short rib, lobster, chicken and octopus.

“The octopus is awesome,” he says, citing it as a tribute to Goussault’s teaching. “You can make it chewing gum if you don’t have it right.”