In search of the truth, Special Agents William Neal and Patrick Cuccaro explore the mysterious Green world of sustainable special events and catering. What myths will they shatter? What will they uncover?
The Truth is out there…so we’re told.
In the third installment of this series, our investigators get ingredient-specific and source-specific, looking into the mind of a chef when tasked with being innovative. Join us as we get down with some culinary calisthenics!
WILLIAM: Do you remember when crème brulee was considered innovative and every dish in every restaurant had truffle oil in it?
PATRICK: Oh, yes. Those were the days!
WILLIAM: Those were the days? Did you really say “those were the days”?! Please tell me that my investigative partner wants those days to return. Really? I mean, REALLY?
PATRICK: Well…there’s always room for traditional eating and celebration of other cultures, yes?
WILLIAM: True. But as you know, back when those culinary trends were happening over here in the United States, Europeans had been dining with marvelous food like that for centuries. Most important, much of the foundation for modern culinary mastery came from European chefs who supplied amazing dishes as part of a culture…the key word being “culture”.
PATRICK: Well, something tells me you are about to weave in sustainability here, aren’t you?
WILLIAM: You bet! Part of the culinary culture that originated in Europe, and for that matter many other parts of the globe, completely embraced sustainable farming, sourcing and food production as a normal way of life within their craft. And in certain areas of the world, sustainable practices are part of the tapestry of a culture.
Livestock strains are bred for pure lines of quality, “grass fed” is often the only way to feed grazing livestock and “locally produced” is in fact as local as local can be. The chefs know where the best ingredients come from and they make it their business to get their hands on the best raw ingredients!
PATRICK: You are so right. It reminds me of the pig and truffle kind of thing. No, I am not pushing truffle oil again. But with truffles, even the pigs in the Piedmont region of Italy know the exact “source” for amazing white truffles. An extreme example, but worthy I believe since they are the ultimate source expert – a specific expertise called upon by human cooks since the ancient Babylonian times. The nose knows!
WILLIAM: Yes. And I must admit, even after ribbing you a bit, I still love white truffles! But I digress…
One of the most important topics related to sustainable sourcing is the production of organically grown and hormone-free protein. We have profiled the local beef of White Oak Pastures and other sources for local chefs. But to most great chefs, it is ALL ABOUT THE FLAVOR and variety.
PATRICK: True. So, tell our readers what some of the main protein ingredients are that chefs seek?
WILLIAM: From a flavor perspective, there is no comparison between a farm-raised salmon and a wild salmon. There is also zero comparison between pasture-fed pork and pork stuffed full of man-made feed.
The interesting thing about flavor profiles in protein is that sometimes a person will taste something “wild” or pasture-fed for the first time in their lives, and it is VERY different than any previous experience. Sometimes this turns the “first taster” off, but in many instances the taster has an epiphany.
Chefs who understand this engineer their dishes to appeal to the finest flavor characteristics of an ingredient and masterfully blend seasonings and ingredients to highlight exactly what will be most well received.
PATRICK: What are some of the most powerful examples you’ve experienced of this dynamic?
WILLIAM: Years ago in my early culinary career, I took a trip to California wine country. I had the chance to eat at renowned Chef Bradley Ogden‘s establishment The Lark Creek Inn. His claim to fame on his hand-written menu that night was local morel mushrooms. I had cooked with them many times before, but mainly with the dried version, not fresh ones.
The waiter brought them to the table and proceeded to expertly introduce and showcase them to customers. He even offered descriptions of how they were harvested nearby. I was blown away by not only the fresh appearance of the delicate mushrooms, but also by the intensely fresh, earthy aroma they exhibited. It was almost as if they lived and breathed the soil and water they had come from.
Of course I ordered them and in a few minutes, my appetizer of fresh morels was placed before me. Imagine the combined smell of fresh warm butter, rich toasted nuts, some delicately grilled beef and maybe a hint of shallots in the air. It was utterly intoxicating.
When I inquired as to the exact preparation, I was told they were simply sautéed in clarified butter and that there were NO other ingredients except the tiniest amount of sea salt. As a chef myself, this was one of those moments that will never be forgotten. I learned in one bite what the typical American dining public also has been learning these last few years: natural, sublimely fresh, locally sourced and simply prepared ingredients have no relationship to most of the food we consume on a daily basis.
I was thrilled and disappointed all at the same time. As a young culinarian, would I be able to make my own important statement about the “food disconnect” we’ve had in our culture? Could I be a champion for respect of the Earth’s natural bounty? I have spent the last 30 years trying to figure it all out.
PATRICK: That’s an eye-opening example of how one chef and one dish can influence so many things by the choices they make and the methods they use. My hope is that everyone we touch with our investigative work – and with the stories you have shared today – might look at chefs from a slightly different perspective. Maybe they’ll see them as vehicles to empower cultural shifts in the ways we eat by highlighting how and why they source ingredients.
PATRICK: Agent Neal, I’m feeling like reservations are in our future.
WILLIAM: What do you mean?
PATRICK: I just heard about a new restaurant that opened where the chef grows, at her own farm, much of what is served. I believe I need to investigate some ingredients very, very carefully. And some wine pairings too!
WILLIAM: Sounds like all this talk of morels and crème brulee has made you hungry. Me, too. Let’s go!
To be continued…
Please share with us and other readers how you go about getting to know your local farmers? How do you go about researching a restaurant’s claim of sourcing local ingredients? How do you determine whether or not an establishment is greenwashing their sustainability claims?
Join us again soon for another episode of The Green Files.
This week’s 3Rs…
REVEALED: Chef Holly Chute
REVERED: Chef Linton Hopkins
REVILED: Growth Hormones in Beef