Modern Gastronomy with Pajo Bruich

A self-taught cook, private chef and owner of Pajo’s Catering based in Lincoln, California, Pajo (pronounced pie-yo) Bruich is connected to food in a molecular way.  His repertoire includes hydrocolloids to modified food starches, and maltodextrin to liquid nitrogen.  He uses amazing quality ingredients to produce modern food with textural variations and flavor bursts that will blow most minds.  I recently popped into his chicken butchery cooking class at Steel Magnolia Kitchen in Sacramento to spend time getting to know him and tasting.

When young, his family owned Rally’s burgers.  His grandfather started Dean Industries, a leading culinary equipment manufacturer.  Their present business, Sierra Express Restaurant Equipment in Lincoln focuses on specialty equipment, high-end cutlery and cookware.  He’s helped manage this business for the last eight years.

During this time, he picked up The French Laundry Cookbook, which changed his life.  To Bruich, the book is about teaching people techniques and how to cook, not about the recipes.

“I fell in love with it and never cut corners from then on,” Bruich said.  “I always make my own stocks and sauces.  I make everything myself.”

He started experimenting outside of the classic, fundamental methods of cooking once he felt confident with his skills, drifting towards the molecular realm.  An intensive pantry of ingredients includes lecithin for stabilizing foams, xanthan gum to thicken juices and purees; agar agar, locust bean gum, methylcellulose, and more.

“I never thought I would get it in the beginning.  There’s so much science, chemistry and information to learn, lots and lots of trial and error and experimentation to get things just right,” Bruich said.  “Thomas Keller is very classic and not into molecular cooking, although they do use many of the ingredients that I do in a very gently way at The French Laundry.”

This particular class was less involved with molecular methods.  Students watched how you truss and cut up a happy chicken from Sinclair Family Farms, then got their own to practice and take home.  His calm demeanor and easygoing style is nice to see and makes anyone comfortable in the kitchen.

Next, we stepped into the dining area while Bruich started the meal.  Stuart Spoto, proprietor and winemaker of Spoto Wines joined us to share his liquid creations.  Spoto is the first ever licensed and bonded winery in a residential neighborhood.  While the wine is sold mostly local and via his website, you can find it in various restaurants around the country.

The first course was Black Mission Fig Salad with La Quercia prosciutto, arugula and a savory goat cheese ice cream.  The first of the season’s figs paired delightfully with the other items.  I particularly enjoyed (no I loved) the ice cream.

Next came Porcini Mushroom Risotto with wild mushroom essence, syrah and coffee glaze (inspired by chef Roberto Cortez).  This was not your ordinary risotto.  The fresh porcini’s combined with mushroom “foam” brought earth into the dish.  With a rim of reduced Syrah wine, small crunchy bits of undercover coffee beans, and a finish of basil oil, each bite was remarkable.  Spoto’s 2007 Reserve Syrah completed the sensory experience magnificently.  I sat back, closed my eyes and said to myself, “yuummmm”.

The third dish, Chicken Breast Roulade “Cuit Sous Vide”, with chicken thigh confit, pommes dauphanoise, sauce bordelaise, and the dessert, Carrot Cake with vanilla bean frosting, rum, raisin and walnut were also outstanding.

It is obvious by the food Bruich is particular about everything he does.  He spends time analyzing elements of a dish conceptualizing how they’ll look.  His goal is to enhance the experience of eating each course.

“We eat first with our eyes and I think a beautiful dish is more enjoyable to eat.  Being meticulous with plating demonstrates my passion and care when creating a dish.  It starts with a thought, a feeling, a smell or sight.  I think about it, create flavor pairings in my head, try them out, think of textural variations, consider how the diner will eat the dish, etc.  So the whole process is quite involved,” Bruich shared.

Check out Pajo cutting up a chicken here, courtesy of Tina Machua, who attended the class.  Thanks Tina!

If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience Bruich’s food, you’re missing out.  He regularly teaches classes at Steel Magnolia Kitchen and Whole Foods Market, both in Sacramento.  He also partners with Anani Lawson, former sommelier at The French Laundry for their Epicure & Discoveries in Wine series at the Club at Pavilions.  For a complete schedule of classes, visit his website  Bruich can be reached at (916) 532-7178.

Pajo's Favorite Beet Salad (Photo Courtesy of Beth Daane Photography)

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