The Art and Enjoyment of Cooking

By by Christoph Brunner,  it4power, Switzerland

For many, eating is reduced to a prerequisite for surviving. For me, over the time, cooking has become a passion. For those of you that know me, you may wonder how this fits a life spending half of the time traveling the world and living in hotels. In reality, this lifestyle may have had an impact that, while I always enjoyed cooking, it has become a real passion. After a long trip, where you have more or less every meal in a restaurant, once back home, I really enjoy the possibility to have full control over what I eat.

On the other side, the various styles of cuisines that I discover around the world provide me with the inspirations to create new dishes.
When PACWorld asked me about this hobby, I reflected, how I got into and I realized that this goes back to my childhood.
Back in the sixties and seventies when I grew up, the typical roles in the families were, that the women were responsible to cook. But in my family, over the weekend, it was typically my father that cooked. And later, when our parents were away - it was me that cooked for my sister and myself.

Initially it was of course basic dishes that I cooked. Then I started to get interested in wine and we typically went once a year with friends to Burgundy in France. During these trips, I started to develop a passion for upscale and fancy cuisine that we enjoyed in the local restaurants. It was as well at that time, when I started to discover seafood and fish from the oceans. Traditionally in Switzerland, having no direct access to the sea, we only had freshwater fish.

So that was what triggered me to get interested in gourmet cooking. In the eighties, due to air transportation, it became now possible to buy fresh seafood in Switzerland as well.So I bought some cookbooks and started to learn. Dinners in various Restaurants helped me to compare my results and improve.It became a tradition that once a year I would invite some friends and would cook a multi course fish and seafood menu. While in the early years, these menus where completely based on recipes from cookbooks, later, I started to create my own recipes based on the ideas I got from the fancy restaurants that I have visited - mainly in France at that time.

Pretty soon, I went beyond fish and seafood. Game dishes - mainly deer and venison - became another favorite. And while my preferred style of cuisine was originally French, it expanded to Mediterranean and the more I was traveling, to any ethnic cuisine around the world. Today, I like sometimes to blend Asian influences in the western style.
While I cook everything from appetizer to soups and main dishes, somehow I am not too much interested in desserts. So very often, when I invite friends for a dinner, they take care of the dessert.

Like for protection, automation and control, the tools you are using play a significant role, and the technology has evolved. Since the kitchen plays an important role in my apartment - I have an open floor plan that allows me to interact with my guests while cooking.My kitchen is very well equipped, and has some of the latest gadget. In Switzerland, using gas in the kitchen is not common, so using an induction based stove compensates. With the induction you have more or less the same control over your cooking temperature as you have with the gas.

Obviously, the oven is very important. My favorite way to prepare meat is to cook it as a whole piece in the oven. As a consequence, I have two ovens. One of them is smaller and has the usual capabilities including hot air and grill. The other one is a more sophisticated one that provides a capability for steaming. This gives you a great opportunity to cook fish or vegetables.It is for instance the way I cook asparagus today - the vegetables keep much more of their flavor than when you cook them in water.

Then of course, you need the various cooking machines like blender, mixer or cutter.  Today, you can buy various brands and models of kitchen machines that you can extend with many accessories. As an example, I have an accessory that allows you to grind meat, and another one to roll out pasta dough such that I can make my own raviolis.


A few years ago I bought a Kenwood Cooking Chef. Besides being a kitchen machine supporting all kind of accessories, that machine has the capability to cook in the bowl through a precise regulated induction heating. This is a great feature if you want to prepare sauces with egg yolk like a sauce béarnaise that shall remain at a controlled temperature while cooking.

When PAC World visited me, I prepared the following medium sized menu:
    Shrimp and Scallops with stuffed Bell Peppers
  Turbot with Chanterelle Mushrooms
   Rabbit with Stachys and Cherry Tomatoes
  Deer and Venison with Forest Mushrooms, Chard, Kale and Spatzle
     Swiss cheese

I have been cooking menus with up to twelve courses. When you are doing such large menus, there are a few points to consider. The most critical one is the size of each dish. If they are too big, nobody will manage to eat all the courses. 

So as a basic rule: when you do the shopping, plan for small quantities; and then prepare half of what you have bought. Then, many of the dishes have to be cooked just before serving.

So the next important thing is the “mise-en-place” as the French call it - the preparation of the ingredients before you start the cooking process. To avoid the stress when your guests arrive, have as much as possible prepared before. Vegetables are peeled, washed and cut in the required pieces; onions, garlic, herbs and other things that need preparation are ready to be used; fish and seafood is cleaned and do not forget to take the meat out of the fridge such that it has room temperature when you start cooking it.For that it is recommended that you have enough bowls of various sizes where you can put the prepared ingredients.

Last but not least like with every project, it is important to have a project schedule - so plan your cooking.

In the recent years I started to experiment with some new cooking techniques, among them the sous-vide cooking. With this method, you put the product you want to cook together with the spices under vacuum and cook it at a constant and typically low temperature either in steam or water bath. This way the product retains the moisture and its own flavor, or if you add spices, or herbs, it takes the flavor of the spice.

How do I design my multi course dinners? First of all, I have a collection of cookbooks for various type of cuisines. I mainly use them as inspiration to get new ideas. So sometimes I plan a menu before I go shopping for the ingredients. When I plan the menu, I follow various approaches. Sometimes I want to have a wide variety - various dishes with fish, seafood and meat, mushrooms and vegetables as well as Western and Asian cuisine. Sometimes I create a menu around a theme. But recently, instead of planning the menu before I go shopping, I rather do the opposite.  I visit the local market, buy fresh products that tempt me and once at home, I plan the menu based on what I have found in the market. If you do it that way, it is of course important to have the basic ingredients that you may need ready at home. During the summer time, I cultivate various herbs on my balcony like basil, rosemary, thyme or oregano.

Last but not least, a good meal requires the adequate wine. So I have a wine cellar with about 750 bottles of wines from the major wine growing areas. To always have some wine ready I have a wine fridge built in my kitchen that allows to keep white and red wine at the right temperature to be ready to drink with the served food.

 

Recipes:

1st Course - Stuffed Bell Peppers
This is a recipe that allows a large variation. In principle you can stuff the bell pepper with almost everything - fish, meat or vegetable. When you do this as a part of a multi course dinner, be sure to use small bell peppers. For this recipe, I selected bell peppers stuffed with mushrooms.

  • Cut the top of the bell pepper; clean the inside
  • Simmer the bell pepper including the top in salted water for about 5 minutes; chill then with cold water
  • Chop mushrooms, shallots and some garlic in a food processor with a chopping blade (be careful not to puree them)
  • Heat some olive oil in a skillet; add the chopped ingredients; stir fry for about 5 minutes at medium temperature
  • Add some white wine and season with salt, pepper and thyme
  • Continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until the liquid has evaporated; let the mixture cool down
  • Stuff the bell peppers, put the top on and place them in a baking dish - up to here this can be easily prepared ahead
  • Bake the bell peppers in the preheated oven at 160 °C for about 15 minutes

 

4th Course - with Juniper Sauce
For this recipe you should use a cut of the deer that is suitable for roasting like a sirloin tip or the top round.

  • Put the meat in a bowl and cover with red wine; add juniper berries and peppercorns; let marinate for 4 to 8 hours
  • Take the deer out of the wine; pat dry it; salt and pepper it, place it in a baking dish and cover with some thin sliced bacon
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C
  • Roast the deer for 10 minutes at 200°C
  • Reduce the heat within 5 minutes to 120°C and finish roasting until it reaches the desired temperature. I recommend medium rare
  • In the meantime, reduce the wine to about 0.5 dl
  • Sieve the wine reduction
  • With medium heat, whisk ice cold pieces of butter in the wine reduction, until the sauce starts to thicken; be careful not to heat too much, otherwise the emulsion will separate
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • For serving, slice the meat and put some sauce over the meat; don’t drown the meat with too much sauce!

 

Biography:

Christoph Brunner is the President of his own independent consulting company it4power LLC based in Switzerland. He has over 25 years of experience with knowledge across several areas within the Utility Industry and of technologies from the Automation Industry. He has worked as a project manager at ABB Switzerland Ltd in the area of Power Technology Products in Zurich. He is Convener of WG 10 of the IEC TC57 and is a member of WG 17, 18 and 19 of IEC TC57. He is senior member of IEEE-PES and IEEE-SA, an IEEE Fellow and is active in several WGs of the IEEE-PSRC and a member of the PSRC main committee and the subcommittee H. He is international advisor to the board of the UCA international users group.

Relion advanced protection & control.
Protecting your electrical assets? today and tomorrow