Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guest Post: The Culinary Institute of America Meets PepsiCo.

Last week my friend and one of Canada's foremost chefs, Frédéric Morin, shared a photo that he'd seen on Twitter highlighting a Culinary Institute of America cooking challenge where the special ingredients were PepsiCo products. I immediately asked if he'd like to weigh in with his thoughts and here is his guest post. And by the way, Fred's irreverence is nearly as delicious as his restaurants.
Just another exciting mystery basket competition at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). I always hated culinary challenges, food gets tepid, judges get all reality TV on you and the boxes are filled with sadness. In this case sadness was tempered by Lays chips, Pepsi and the “healthy” Sun Chips.

Young cooks go to the CIA because it is the ivy league of cooking schools, or at the least perceived to be. Its “still” (I say still because with years I came to value work experience over academic experience, in my field that is) a venerable mark on one's résumé, but with yearly tuition upward of $35,000 it is obviously not given to everyone with a knife roll and a pair of clogs to attend.

So what's there? Superb facilities, grounds that looks straight out of a 70’s love movie, and delicious and very intelligent restaurants ran by students, amongst them the Paul Bocuse* restaurant. The CIA also publishes very complete and comprehensive books on such topics as pastry, charcuterie, and multiple aspects of cooking, books that I use frequently as reference.

My apprenticeship in the trade of cooking, as for many others, was fuelled and sustained in part by Doritos and Pepsi, I admit. There always was this “wholesomeness” fatigue, seemingly, where peeling sun chokes for an hour, or brushing chanterelles with a toothbrush, made me not hungry for such food, but when had a bag of chips I did so feeling like I do when I open the second (third??!) bottle, or when I finally convince myself that rest is more important than exercise, a pugilistic opposition of angel and demon, on my shoulder like Fred Flintstone used to experience. It's alight, it felt great to feel wrong.

Of course classic French repertoire contains not so “clean” dishes as curly fries, but they are called Pommes de terres Chatouillard, and crinkle cut chips are Pommes de terres Gaufrettes, and there are countless other gems of the sort. But take the Chatouillard, it's potatoes, never refrigerated, peeled and shaped as a tube (the trims used for potato leek soup, perhaps), then a skewer is stuck in the middle and a knife is rotated while resting on the skewer resulting in a spring shape like potato. The potatoes are then fried in two successive baths of rendered lard kept at very specific temperature, and at the end you get a puffed curly fry that is really light and delicious with roast duck. It's quite complex and as a matter fact it's sometimes part of the exam to become a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. But being hard to make renders it elusive and expensive, and as such, hard to eat a bag full! The process also brings the craftsman to understand the importance of cooking temperatures in order to avoid oil absorption, the many varieties of potatoes, and the correct way to store and use them, etc. All that to say that in most cases what's really important is not always the end result, but how it's made, and what is learned through the process.

Some wine is harvested manually, on specific plots of land and made very carefully in order to provide something that reflects the “who,when and where”, and then there is Ménage à Trois. Pepsi, Doritos, Ménage à Trois does not have a seat at the venerable table of Hand Made. Simply, the apprenticeship process is all about learning how to MAKE, while a bag of Doritos is already MADE, and most of the effort is put into not telling you what's in it.

Sure you can have a caloric based defence argument, and say that a big dinner at Joe Beef is 2000 calories, but again, I don't eat there everyday, in fact I almost never and nor do I wish it upon you too frequently. You enjoy, celebrate, offer to someone and yourself this fun, delicious episode in your week, month or year, and the calories you'll consume there are made of stuff people grow, the name of the farmer is printed on the Quebec rib-eye label, and at first sign of GMO** my staunch partner David quickly purged the taps of major beers.

I do not know the offals of this corporate deal between PepsiCo and the CIA. Maybe this hard earned money will help students deal with the always increasing cost of Tostitos, who knows! I once felt good knowing that CIA was stoically resisting this shit storm of Dinner Drive ins and Dives, but no more.

* Paul Bocuse is a French chef in Lyon, he has three Michelin stars for longer than I have years, and a nice French rooster tattoo on his shoulder. His cooking is amazingly delicious and last that I know, his rouget en croûte de potatoes was not 86’ed in favour of a rouget en croûte de Doritos.

** when in doubt abstain.

Fred (all in his words) co-owns Joe Beef, Liverpool House and Vin Papillion restaurants in Montreal, and is the co-author of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. He fathered three offspring that currently prevent him from living a second youth behind the stoves. He also wishes he had gone to College. He divides his time between being fat, becoming slim, being slim and becoming fat. He lives close enough to Montreal, to call it Montreal. And you can follow him on Twitter