The power of food

It has become common place to talk about food, but have we thought about food? These days food is everywhere and at every event; no matter how large or important the event, food can be a deal breaker.

Have you ever been to a workshop or seminar where the sessions are so intense that you look forward to the break or even the lunch period and, you expectantly approach the catered offering looking for something to dispel the mode into which you have worked yourself, only to be met with very disappointing fare?

Needless to say, your mood has been ruined for the remainder of the meeting. Such is the power of food! Of course, on the other hand, if you are greeted with the most delicious, stimulating and beautifully balanced meal, that also sets your mood for decision-making and participation in the event.

So we are back to food; what is food?  By now you should be starting to realize that it is more than just one of those four-letter words which we just use without thought or consideration.  Dictionary.com’s description of food is “. . . any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth. . .”. And, these days, it does even more as it affects moods and attitudes, as described in the previous paragraph.

Now that we have an idea as to what food is and the power it possesses, let’s take a deeper look, as people tend not to realize the complexity of this essential art. Food for consumption can be broken down into a number of different categories. For example, food can be served hot or it can be served cold; it can be served cooked or uncooked; it can be served in a liquid or a solid form; it can be served spicy or bland.

So, with all of these variations, which might seem confusing to the average person, but which, by the way, are a gold mine for the trained chef, how do we start categorizing food? Let’s start with hot food; hot food refers to products or produce to which heat is applied. Sorry, folks, but this further complicates the situation as we have to first understand what heat is.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, heat is described as “. . . the energy transferred as a result of a difference in temperature . . .”.  For cooking, it is measured in Fahrenheit or Celsius and when applied to food, it creates an irreversible change. But why would we apply this heat to food? We cook for three basic reasons: first and foremost, to kill bacteria, secondly, to make food more palatable and, thirdly, to manipulate the flavours and texture.

So we are off and cooking, right?  Not so fast, because it gets a bit more complicated as you now have to determine what type of heat must be applied. Will it be dry heat or moist heat? This is also very important, as you will remember that earlier, we noted that the change is irreversible. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for the person applying that heat to understand the change that will take place, as the change resulting from moist heat will be totally different from that of dry heat.

Moist heat and dry heat, you ask? Let me explain. Moist heat can be defined as cooking with the use of additional liquid and dry heat is cooking using only the liquid of the item being cooked. It should therefore be clear from these descriptions that the two essential things in cooking are heat and liquid.

Uncooked food is food that is properly washed, prepared and presented in a creative way. Although sounding simple, this can be a bit more challenging since no cooking is involved and, therefore, no additional manipulation of flavours or texture is possible through this means. The person preparing the item has to be particularly careful with the selection and blending of flavours and textures. Even colour is important here, as these all help to stimulate the appetite even before they reach our taste buds.

And, contrary to what people may say, it is more difficult for the average human being to gravitate towards uncooked vegetables in their natural form. We’ve just mentioned three more very critical words in the cooking process –– flavor, texture and colour – which we will discuss in detail in a future column.

Why is all of this important? I guess the answer will be determined by who you are addressing and what they are expecting out of it. If you plan to be a chef or even a professional cook in the future, then it is vitally important as you work towards your goal, to understand all of these concepts. On the other hand, if you are a person cooking only for your family or just for survival, it is still very important as these points determine the final flavour of what you will consume and everyone has an idea about what they would like to taste on their plate.

Cooking, you see, is still very instinctive but can be developed and fine-tuned to the highest level. As I always tell my students, cooking imitates life in every way; in this instance, it is like learning to use your legs. First, you learn to creep and when you get more comfortable, creeping turns into walking and that, in turn, develops into running; at this stage, you can fine-tune it even further if you have aspirations of becoming the next Usain Bolt.

It is quite the same thing with food. First, you start to cook, then you understand cooking and begin to manipulate flavours and, eventually, you can fine-tune your craft to become the Auguste Escoffier of food.  Having said that, though, we do have the challenged people who may never walk and, so too in the cooking industry, there are -But don’t despair! As a certified executive chef and culinary educator, I am here to help anyone experience the joys of cooking, in any way possible.

Our recipes this week are two simple pasta dishes:

PENNE PASTA W/ CHICKEN LIVERS

INGREDIENTS

10 ozs Penne Pasta

2 tbsp Olive or Vegetable Oil

2 oz margarine

8 oz chicken livers, trimmed

1 yellow sweep pepper, cut into strips

1 red onion, sliced

2 sprigs chives, chopped

2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1 pod garlic, chopped

Salt and pepper

3 oz Cheddar cheese, grated

METHOD:

1.    Cook pasta until al dente

2.    Heat oil and margarine in a large frying pan

3.    Add onion and chicken livers and cook on a high heat until brown all over

4.    Add chives, thyme, garlic and pepper strips and season with salt and pepper; do not overcook the chicken livers

5.    Mix the chicken liver sauce with the pasta and toss well

6.    Serve immediately with the grated Cheddar cheese

 (Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer peter@dcbarbados.com)

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