Najat Kaanache, head chef (Miami, USA)

Najat Kaanache

Najat Kaanache. Photo: courtesy of Najat Kaanache

“I grew up picking and milling olives and wheat with my family between the Atlas and Pyrenees Mountains. I went on to train with many of the world’s greatest chefs, survived breast cancer and received a Master’s of Culinary Sciences Degree from Ferran Adrià and University of Barcelona. I believe that creativity and innovation are necessary constants. I also believe that food is the most relevant and important connection we humans have with our Earth. Food has the magical power to translate Earth’s language to every human’s senses and even transform adults into children! I have been blessed to collaborate with White House Chef Bill Yosses on the magical juxtaposition of science and the culinary world at Harvard, NYU, Le Cordon Bleu and the 2013 World Science Festival in NYC.” That’s the way how the great Najat Kaanache presents herself and I couldn’t do it better.

This highly inspiring chef from Miami, who has worked with and learned from some of the world’s greatest chefs (restaurants El Bulli, Noma, Per Se, French Laundry, and Alinea) is becoming an inspiration for many and her influence can only grow. This year she has opened Piripi, a restaurant in Miami in which she was serving natural, rustic, and earthy Spanish food. She is now ready for new challenges.

What does chocolate mean for you?

Chocolate represents a world of possibilities.  My first encounter with tempering chocolate came at the formidable hands of Mateu Casañas at el Bulli.  He poured 8kg of chocolate on a marble work top and asked “Do you know how to temper chocolate?” I was frozen with fear so he looked at me and said, “Watch and learn.”  I spent the rest of the day working chocolate and learning the fluid dance of hand-tempering.  I gained an acute sensitivity for chocolate’s composition and chemical properties, which formed the base for getting creative with new possibilities of texture and flavor.

Choco Planeta by Najat Kaanache

Choco Planeta by Najat Kaanache. Photo: courtesy of Najat Kaanache

Why have you chosen this dessert?

My Choco Planeta is an interstellar celebration of chocolate diversity.  In form, it recalls a chocolate planet exploding in the context of a chocolate solar system surrounded by chocolate detritus. In reality it is a study of seven flavours, seven textures and three temperatures of chocolate.

What is in your opinion so special about it?

The rich flavor of praline and smoked chocolate paired with a happy plating style transport me to a simpler time of child-like wonder and limitless creativity. An important factor in making this dish and a piece of magic that I wish to share with everyone who tastes a Choco Planeta.

Please describe your dessert – tell us please about the flavours, temperatures and textures that describe this dessert.

We begin with a swirl of chocolate dulce de leche mousse to represent the chocolate planet’s orbit.  Next we dollop four types of cooled, stabilized chocolate mousse (two dark, one milk, one smoked white ganache) which are blended with condensed milk.  Then we add a few pinches of warm dark chocolate sand and dirt “asteroids”.  We drizzle little droplets of reduced mandarin mousse and sift powdered olive oil “space dust” over the dollops and scatter feuilletine flakes more “asteroids” for crispy texture.  Lastly, we place vibrant edible flower blooms atop the white chocolate ganache mousse dollops and lay a velvety quenelle of white chocolate praline ice cream in the center.

Which chocolate did you use and why have you chosen that chocolate?

I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute cocoa powder because its brilliant, intense red color lends a subtle highlight and its 100% cacao (alkalized/very dark/23% fat) composition gives a sharp bitter note to balance the sweetness of the dessert.  A little goes a long way.

What has inspired you to create this dessert?

I envisioned a magical planet of flavours and literally sketched a colorful chocolate planet where I would like to forage chocolate flavours and textures. Then I figured I could explode that planet in the context of a solar system and cool it down with ice cream.

How was it born?

I started playing with the components of a solar system, then plated according to the vision I’d sketched.

Najat assisting Jordi Roca (El Celler de Can Roca) at El Celler de Can Roca USA tour

Najat assisting Jordi Roca (El Celler de Can Roca) at El Celler de Can Roca USA tour. Photo: Najat Kaanache

Does it require any special technique?

Achieving a happy balance of flavor in each component requires a lot of love and patience.  It’s helpful to have a Pacojet and access to freeze-dried products. Creating an elegant quenelle requires practice and the perfect spoon.

What was the special challenge with it?

The only challenge is obtaining and maintaining the freedom within your brain to create.

Any final message for our readers?

Chocolate carries with it the stories of many “cocoa families”.  I view chocolate (and all foods) from the perspective of an immigrant, mindfully, with an understanding and appreciation for its roots; the human hands and effort required to cultivate its ingredients.  Through scientific exploration, the seemingly mundane is transformed into a magical canvas for creative expression and indulgence. But we must never forget to nourish the roots.