Wednesday, September 14, 2011


In my line of work I deal with what seems to be the oddest request from diners sometimes. I had a gluten free woman the other day for lunch and we stopped the whole kitchen to make her the dish she had to have because none of the existing things without gluten were "satisfying" enough for her. While she ate this gluten free dish, she helped herself to a full baguette worth of bread. This stuff is happening more and more often as well. If you don't like garlic, just say that...... don't tell your server you are allergic to it. It is bad karma.

I remember a day when people who were vegetarians were just that. Now I see an increase of vegans, pescatarians (we eat things like tillapia still) and raw food something or others, and it is hard for me to keep them all straight. Then I see a whole line of people who don't eat pork, because they are dirty animals, but will eat chicken (have you seen how meat birds are raised) it doesn't make any sense. The same people who hate on veal, when in all reality veal is more sustainable then a full size cow. We aren't using them to breed anyway. Younger steer means it lived less, which in turn means it consumed less, releasing less gas into our atmosphere in waste, and was easier, and cheaper to harvest and transport.

If you have health or religious eating restrictions that is fine. If you feel very firmly that we shouldn't be killing off animals for food, while I couldn't disagree more, that is fine as well. If you don't eat meat for sustainability reasons that is also fine. The problem is those people are so grossly misinformed I can't help but get pissed. I know a pescatarian- a person who doesn't eat meat, but does eat fish, who thinks that meat is too un-sustainable to consume. The same person though consumes some of the most unsustainable fish available. Farmed salmon, tillapia, halibut, farmed prawns, dredge scallops, etc. All of which are the least sustainable things that come from water, not even the ocean mind you, but water.

Vegans are another one that is tough for me. I have tried multiple times to get a solid vegan dish on the menu, and regardless of what it is, I can never sell it. So vegans proudly walk into restaurants all over, during the crunch of service and demand a special meal. I don't really have a problem doing this, I have a problem with the time frame though. With even an hour of heads up I have the opportunity to really get creative, time to cook a real starch, marinate, etc. On the spot I only have a few things I can do, and I never feel as good about them as I would like. If you are a vegan- call ahead. This time of year I have so much cool stuff in my walk-in that I want to show off to you, if you just give me a few minutes I can really serve you an amazing dish, that is a great reflection of the restaurant and my own style. Due to the changing seasons, and peak business, I don't always have the same things available to create for you, so it is hard for me to say: here is the stand by vegan dish. Instead it turns into-here is the standard vegan dish, unless it is after ten, during breakfast, figs are out of season, and you are looking at 15 other tickets hanging.

The other thing I have always wondered is where most vegetarians and or vegans draw the line. Where is close to meat too close for comfort. Liquid smoke is a smoke flavorant that is made by collecting smoke extracts from smoke houses. Smoke houses usually smoke bacon, on an industrial scale at least, so does the fact that your barbecue sauce smoke flavorant that was yielded by air permeating around a slab of pork belly make you not eat anything with liquid smoke. And if you do, then a simple stock is just the exact same thing, but instead of flavor being transferred by air it is transferred by water. Stock is just a meat infusion. It doesn't contain any meat per se. So in my head if you eat liquid smoke, then you should eat stock, and if you eat both of those then why not eat a steak. If you are a vegan what about honey. It is an animal by product so you would think no, but I have know some who do. If you are a vegetarian because you don't eat meat for sustainability issues, and you were gifted the nicest pork chop around. Raised by a guy who treated the animal well, harvested with decency, and then cooked perfectly- would you eat it? If you only eat raw foods (an idea that could put me out of a job) then do you eat cured things, or what about things that have been cooked by citrus or vinegar. Is it the application of heat that makes something not raw, or can it be a combination of salt and time as it has been for thousands of years?  Where did you come up with your own boundaries, and when. Are you just a vegetarian for a few months, or for a while in college, or have you done your own research and made your own decision, not just the decision that was trendy. Did someone tell you once that "eating animals is bad....mmmkay" and you bought it. I am all for eating more vegetables I am even all for eating proteins in smaller sizes. I am really hardcore about eating more sustainable proteins, but also am not naive enough to believe everything out there. I have read everything I can get my hands on, on both sides of the argument and have had to form my own opinion. The things I take away from that are different then what you take away from them. Even if you love eating meat, it is worth your time to do some investigation. As a consumer you need to be aware of the scams that are out there. Free range on a chicken egg doesn't mean that they get to run around happily on a small farm somewhere. Organic labels on all meat can be a load of bull, natural can mean they weren't fed antibiotics "excessively" but it still can mean they were treated and harvested in a horrible manner. Becoming a vegetarian is a life changing choice, do some research and become one for your own reasons, not someone else. And if you are in a spot where you are saying to a server that you are "allergic" to something when really you don't like it, just be honest about it. The increase in food allergies is worrisome to all good chefs and cooks. Kids and adults with tree nut allergies are a serious thing. People who have a serious reaction to gluten, can still be getting side effects from its consumption a month later, and we take that very seriously. That is way different then someone saying they are allergic to corn because they don't like it. Every time that happens, it softens the seriousness of the underlying real allergy issues. That isn't fair to the people who cook food, and can be tragic to those who consume it.