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Gabriel Bremer: masterchef, whiz scientist

It is almost midnight on a Saturday evening, and the last orders have just left the kitchen. But chef Gabriel Bremer is still hard at work on his latest experiment: s’mores.

“You need all the elements of s’mores, even the campfire,” Bremer told the Daily. “We brought in the aroma of burning wood and smoke by using a glass cloche [a bell jar formed by a solid piece of glass and shaped like a dome] and a tube that funnels in all the smoke.”

Bremer’s elegant yet whimsical take on s’mores, a dessert for which ingredients are torched like a meringue and served with chocolate ganache, is just one of the many dishes he has created for his restaurant Salts in Cambridge, Mass. But the 34-year-old chef always thought of cooking as a mere hobby and never dreamt that it would become a career.

Originally from Lakewood, Ohio, Bremer grew up in a family in which a tradition of comfort meals and the availability of fresh produce often drew him to the kitchen.

“Food was definitely a part of the family dynamic, be it preparing dinners with grandparents or baking projects with my mother during the weekend,” he said.

Going into the food business, however, was not Bremer’s intended career path. Rather, he thought his calling lay elsewhere.

“I studied for 16 years … classical percussion. That was the direction in which I was headed,” Bremer said.

Despite several gigs with the Cleveland Orchestra, Bremer was having troubles supporting himself financially, so he went back to doing what he knew best.

“Cooking seemed the easiest and most attractive option, so that’s where I went to and basically found myself really starting to enjoy it,” he said.

Though he had also been involved in a family coffeehouse business, Bremer thought that he would need to step up his game in order to turn food into a real salary-earner. At age 18, Bremer went to study under chef Sam Hayward, a winner of a prestigious James Beard award, at Fore Street Bistro in Portland, Maine. With that experience under his belt, he opened his first restaurant, Gabriel’s, with a few friends.

Gabriel’s, however, was a short-lived project that began to fall apart soon after its opening.

“I think I jumped at the chance to open up that restaurant,” he said, “And the partnership did not work. I learned a lot of lessons from that.”

Humbled, Bremer returned to learning the ropes of fine cooking, this time under another James Beard award-winning chef, Jody Adams, current chef and owner of the Harvard Square restaurant, Rialto. At Rialto, Bremer learned about more complex techniques and flavors that have shaped his current culinary style: elegant, contemporary comfort food.

This time, with more confidence in his skills, Bremer and his wife, Analia Verolo, jumped at the chance to take over Salts after the previous owner left in 2004. Since then, Bremer has devoted his time to crafting new dishes for his menu, which changes on a regular basis.

“Being a young and passionate, expressive chef, I’m constantly looking for ways to be very creative and exciting and intriguing for the customers,” Bremer said. “And with that, I find myself looking to see who’s most inventive these days.”

But his menu stands out most because of the one thing that remains constant — Bremer’s fascination with new Spanish cuisine, associated with chefs like Ferran Adria, Juan Mari and Andoni Luis Aduriz, all of whom are best known for their expertise in molecular gastronomy, the application of scientific techniques to the preparation of food.

“I do a lot of reading and a lot of research in books and Internet and where I could find these topics,” Bremer said. “And I spend some time with some of these people and try to learn from their techniques.”

To add his own touch, Bremer applies the discipline to the all-American comfort food in which he specializes.

“You can create a perfect marriage with the balance of finding familiar flavors — things that people can connect with,” he said. “Take the idea of a pot roast: Instead of cooking it traditionally, you can sous vide it, and you get rid of all the negative elements, like cooking it dry. Now you have the most perfectly juicy, succulent pot roast,” he said, referring to the process of vacuum-sealing and then pressure-cooking ingredients.

Another recipe to which he applies the principles of molecular gastronomy is the classic dish, French onion soup, which in Bremer’s kitchen is more of a scientific experiment.

“Everybody knows it is really messy and not really beautiful,” he said. “We looked at how we could refine it, so we made a caramelized onion consommé. We took an onion, made a puree of caramelized onions and I strengthened the puree by using a bit of gel and gum. And then we took the Gruyere cheese and turned it into liquid ravioli, which turns into a couple spheres of liquid, which explodes into cheese when you eat it.”

While Bremer does not consider himself one of the strict adherents of the molecular gastronomic discipline, he is certainly knowledgeable about the subject and will be judging the culinary science fair in December, put on by Harvard University students enrolled in the school’s new and popular course Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter.

Bremer hopes to be even more engaged in the class in the future, he said.

“As of now, my participation is minor,” Bremer said. “Hopefully I’ll be involved more and more. The response is really pretty amazing. People are really interested in these topics — knowing about modern cooking techniques. All they want to do is educate the public more and more to the point where hopefully the restaurants are all doing the same.”

– Jon Cheng

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