The suggestion that one should consider burning their food may come as a bit of a surprise, considering most aspiring home cooks expend much of their energy trying not to burn any of their food.
In a slow but purposeful move, however, many high-end chefs are embracing the fire, and turning up the char factor. Begun by Frances Mallmann, whose cuisine in recent years has been inspired by Patagonian open fire cooking, the char revolution is showing no signs of slowing down.
In an enclosed setting, many shutter to be associated with the smell of burning, but as these chefs know, there’s an art to balancing the burnt flavors with everything else. Like roasting, cooking on coals or a fire will deeply intensify the sweetness in a dish as the slow method of cooking helps to caramelize the natural sugars. By taking it a step further, that sweetness is tempered by a bit of bitterness from the char, but the best chefs know exactly how to play along.
Throughout the country, well-regarded restaurants are turning to the beauty of cooking on an open fire, from chiles to corn, to cabbage, sweet potatoes, and fruit. The trick is to temper the burnt flavor with something else. If you burn a piece of a crisp, you might be able to incorporate the ash into another dish, as Mario Hernandez does at his restaurant, Black Ant.
In other cases, it’s enough to simply peel back the layer of charred skin, leaving an interior that is creamy, smokey, and just a little bit sweet. With a light touch, burning your food can take a dish from ordinary to incredible, as the complexity achieved by the intensity of the fire is unparalleled by any other method of cooking that chefs can employ in their kitchens.