Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's the difference between a Swiss and an Italian meringue?

"This Guy"
Last week I was stationed at my table in Union Square Greenmarket when "this guy" walked up and stared intently at my stand.  He was followed shortly by a thinner, but similarly dressed man who had a cameraman in tow. The two exchanged quick words in French and then the thinner man turned to me and asked, "What is the difference between a Swiss and an Italian meringue?"
This was clearly a quiz and not a question.
Now, I have no idea what the answer to this question is, and instead of simply saying "I don't know."  (It is one of my creeds of publicly offering cooking information - admitting when you don't know the answer - NOT spouting off false information)
But of course in didn't have the wherewithal to plead ignorance, and so stumbled through some bumbling explanation of the difference,  I claimed that the Swiss meringue is baked.  He politely congratulated me on getting the answer right (even though I didn't) and we chatted via his translator about my project before he moved on.
Ten seconds later an American "press-looking" person with a voice recorder hustled over and asked if I realized who that was.  I admitted I didn't have a clue.
"Joël Robechon"
I've never felt like such a fool.  For those of you that don't know,  Joël Robechon is THE all-star restaurant chef of France.  He was named "Chef of the Century" by Gault Millau, and he has 26 Michelin stars world wide, more than anyone else.

Moral of the story? . . .  Know when to say I don't know I guess. . . . or know your meringues.

For the record, the difference is that in a Swiss meringue you heat the egg whites in a double boiler with sugar to 110-120˚F and then whip them.  In an Italian meringue, you heat a syrup to softball stage (240˚F) and then add it to partially whipped egg whites.
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