SCIENCE ROMANCING CUISINE
Way back when - well actually in the mid 1960s - I took off on a great adventure to a land far away. Passport in hand I set off for Canada as a new immigrant. I landed in Montreal and took that dream journey on the Canadian Pacific Railway to see Canada from coast to coast.
With stops along the way, I ended my transcontinental trip in Vancouver. Like many others, I was in awe of the majesty of the setting. I was a little conspicuous with the way that I dressed - and my jay-walking singled me out for attention with the tolerant policeman at the street corners.
I was enthralled and puzzled with the restaurants and coffee shops - hot beef sandwich on white with gravy all over! Not so good; and they punished the poor turkey in a similar manner. Why are they eating corn? But those Open Denver’s for breakfast and the Monte Cristo at lunch now that was something to tell the boys at home about.
Fun and games being over I travelled to Calgary to take up my first job. I had been hired as assistant manager at a newly built and just opened private club. There were athletic and sports facilities for the hundreds of members and their families. There was a very large banquet room and an adequate cafeteria. However the kitchen and bar facilities had not yet been equipped. We used portable bars on wheels much like today and we employed the services of an outside catering company.
The corporate chef of the catering company was a splendid man whose name was Bob Jackson. He taught me a great deal. Indeed I had a great deal to learn about North American cuisine.
I recall with horror observing my first banquet. The empty kitchen space had been prepped with many banquet tables. I watched as the caterers off-loaded the food and supplies. They had great equipment for keeping the hots hot and the colds cold. Impressive!
Time to set up the buffet tables. Out the platters went. What a selection. What choices! But hold on what is that dome of green stuff and the other red one? Look at the selection of starches: roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad and macaroni salad and tubs of sour cream. The Yorkshires look great. So much cheese. God, look at those two hips of beef they are gigantic -- and look how well the chef has Frenched the exposed bones.
The whistle went (so to speak) and the guests lined up on both sides of the buffet table and set to work. Did I say choice? An understatement if ever there was one. Everyone took a piece of everything and I do mean everything.
I stood behind the two Chefs who were carving at the T-end of the buffet. The guests had 10-inch plates and as the line arrived, I could see that each was piled 10-inches high or perhaps it was 10-feet high.
Can you imagine a careful dump (I can’t say serving) off each of those platters separated by cheese wedges and bonded by that stuff in the green dome (it was of course coleslaw salad in lime jelly). The sour cream and the gravy acted as an adherent enabling the Yorkshire to stay put. The final benediction was the slab of beef good and rare as befitted those stalwart men and women of Alberta’s Prairies in the 1960s.
Perhaps when compared to Europe, Canada was a slow starter, yet in the ensuing years her Chefs quickly came up to speed. In 1982 Canada stood atop of the podium in Luxembourg and likewise in Singapore in 1987, then in Frankfurt in 1984 and again in 1992.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well we are now starting a new decade and I thought it appropriate to reminisce for a moment over yesterday’s kitchen and marvel at today’s.
Is it my imagination suggesting that we once saw more offal on the butcher’s marble slab than we do today? Perhaps. But, today’s concept nose-to-tail cooking is more enticing by far.
Today chefs will, as an example, take the small and scrumptious squab and poach the breast, confit the legs and fry the egg. Then they will serve this over a sweet crumble consisting of corn, oats grains and wild herbs - all of the rummagings and peckings that the bird would have fed on. Now that’s cooking!
I read a while back in the Washington Post that chefs José Andrés and Ferran Adrià will teach a first-of-its-kind course in culinary physics at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University. Subsequently we now know that the 13-week course was oversubscribed.
A Harvard research fellow comments that, “All cooking is soft matter physics.” Well that’s comforting to know! However there is little doubt that it is also important to understand the characteristics of classical emulsions and foams: In other words “culinary physics.”
Another giant on today’s scene is Heston Blumenthal. While he executes a similar game plan as Andrés and Adrià, he conversely states: “The future of cooking lies in the secret receipts of the past.” He will creatively serve up a red cabbage gazpacho but then take off and pull out pine aroma or leather extract. Are they in my pantry?
Looking at today’s options I must say that I would dearly have loved to dine at elBulli at Cala Montjoi with Ferran or experience the avant garde cooking of José at his Minibar Restaurant in Washington, D.C. Who would turn down the opportunity to visit with Heston at the Fat Duck in Bray? Then in London we could experience Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Cuisine at his St John Restaurant. Staying in London we could look forward to visiting Ryan at Chenestons Restaurant at Kensington Court and sample Modern English Cuisine.
When all is said and done I must observe that there are some advantages to longevity. I would have to point to one being ‘perspective’. It enables us to see where we have come from and who we travelled with. We experienced upsets and challenges but also much satisfaction and many rewards. Let’s watch with anticipation where food trends will take us this next decade.
As a final thought wouldn’t it also be grand to turn a page of a luncheon menu and once again see the Monte Cristo Sandwich?
||Champchefs has grown with 42 new teams joining us since our last Edition in October. I am pleased to have them on board. To view these Teams just go to the Home page.