Sous Vide

At it’s simplest, cooking something in the ‘sous vide’ manner, means to cook something in plastic. In practice, the food is vacuum packed, sealed in plastic, and then cooked at low temperatures.   It’s a hot buzz word in restaurants right now, for a few reasons: a) sealing and intensifying flavors, b) protecting against loss (for example: cooking foie gras sous vide can reduce loss by 5%, and at the cost of foie gras, that becomes important)  c) consistency.

In the fall issue of Gastronomica, a quarterly magazine dedicated to all aspects of gastronomy, Scott Haas makes a case for sous vide in an article entitled “Better Dining through Chemistry”.  Gastronomica does not have an online version of this article, so I cannot link to.

Although there is controversy regarding the food safety aspect of the technique, Mr. Haas is exploring the commercial benefits of sous vide.  He states, “The big economic advantage of sous vide method is that it enables chefs to create brands. Whether a signature dish at a restaurant or a specific item sold in retail stores, food prepared sous vide makes it possible for enterprising chefs to maintain a global presence. Alain Ducasse can serve a sous vide chicken dish at his restaurant in Tokyo that tastes exactly the same as the one served at his Paris restaurant.”
I have one word, no make that three words to say to that: “Howard Johnson” “terroir”. Why on earth would I shell out big bucks to have a chicken taste the same in Tokyo or Paris? That just makes no sense at all.  Howard Johnson became the powerhouse that it was because it was the same everywhere, no matter where you went; you could expect the comfort of familiarity and sameness. It’s a successful business model used by the likes of  Holiday Inn, Ritz Carlton, and Stouffer’s, and that international giant: McDonald’s. But why would Alain Ducasse, a Frenchman, want to join that club, and why would he ignore terroir?  Quality winemakers strive to make their wines taste of the ground, the minerals, the rainwater. Their wine can be produced nowhere else, and that creates value. Why would a chef turn his back on the unique appeal of a regional ingredient?

Mr. Haas goes on to explain the benefits of ‘uniformity’. “Because minute variations in temperature can yield extremely subtle differences, by precisely documenting the desired temperatures and cooking times, chefs can be assured of the identical result every time, as though they were in a scientific laboratory.” 
He quotes Philip Preston, president of PolyScience, as saying, “It makes cooking idiot proof.” PolyScience makes equipment for sous vide processing.  OK, so let me get this straight: I go to a high end restaurant and I want the consistency of product that I get at McDonald’s, prepared by people who have the same skill level.  And that is supposed to be a good thing??

I can understand the appeal of using this method for sealing in flavor and moisture, but consistency and brand building seem directly opposed to the reasons why I would choose to spend my hard earned money at Per Se, where upwards of 20% of the dishes are prepared sous vide.

The health department controversy …. Well, that’s for another day.

The weather in the mountains is absurdly, strangely warm for the second day. As we were coming home, the wind coming up the valley was balmy.  And back east, they are in a deep freeze.  Bizarre weather for sure.  Here is a photo of a little friend who was eating breakfast with me this morning.  A dude if every there was one!Jay2_1


Leave a Comment