Creativity and Science Have Merged on Hotel

When Chefs create menus, we look at many different parameters and angles of how to design a dish, and how to group those dishes into a menu. We look at what is new or exciting, or, what is old and forgotten about which may be “resurrected”. We look at seasonality, colors on the plate, quality of the ingredient, trendiness of an ingredient, or uniqueness of a preparation or combination of flavors. These are not mutually exclusive, and they all can play into each other. Chefs sometimes bounce these ideas off of the guests who are dining with them, as “experimentation” whether they admit it or not! Some of these fail, and some take off with such fervor, that they can become national trends. Many recent trends have been successfully focused on artisanal ingredients or old-world preparations. So, what does it mean to use these hybrid, artisanal or old-world ingredients, and are we being true to them?

The term “Artisan” or “Old-World” is normally used to describe food ingredients produced by non-industrialized methods, often handed down through generations but is now in danger of being lost. Tastes and processes, such as fermentation, are allowed to develop slowly and naturally, rather than curtailed for mass-production. Production methods are kept authentic to the nature of the item, so that modernization of processing does not alter the flavor, consistency, or quality as they originally were.

Artisan traditionally refers to both what it is made of and how something is made. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an artisan as, “one that produces something (as with cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods.” The artisan process requires a specific knowledge, a caring philosophy and is most often carried out by hand. Furthermore, artisan foods have been mostly associated with fresh, non- or minimally processed ingredients, and are often locally sourced. Most associate artisan foods which are handcrafted by a skilled creator from pure, local ingredients. Artisan bread comes to mind. One might expect the loaf to be a bit irregular and a bit different looking from the one that shared a spot in the wood-fired stone oven. Its taste and texture would be superior to manufactured bread. These are unlikely conditions under which fast or frozen foods are sourced and manufactured.

The biggest disadvantage of hybrid seeds is that they don’t “reproduce true” in the second generation. That means that if you save the seeds produced by F1 hybrid plants and plant them, the plant variety that will grow from those seeds (known as the second generation) may or may not share the desired traits you selected for when creating the first generation hybrid seed. This may in turn keep a farmer dependent on a particular seed company year after year since they can’t save the seeds and expect the next generation of plants they grow to be identical to the first. This could be devastating to subsistence farmers around the world, who are depending on consistency and quality. Furthermore, major portions the world’s food biodiversity has been lost due to the controls over seed production being shifted from farming communities to a handful of multinational corporations controlling these hybrid seed strains. Some hybrids are also not grown on a massive scale, and retain the uniqueness that an heirloom has. A hybrid can pack just as much punch as an heirloom, and should not be overlooked either.

For the Chef, however, the positives in utilizing either old-world heirloom or hybrids brings excitement to the plate, showcasing products that the region may have never seen before, and generating a buzz about a dish due to the origins of the product. Relishing in creative freedom, Chefs value the fact that there are such hybrids in which to utilize. Avoiding GMOs, however, takes a few steps which a Chef must be willing to undertake:

  1. Opt to buy single-ingredient certified organic food.
  2. Choose Non-GMO verified labeled foods.
  3. Grow their own open-pollinated, heirloom variety plants.
  4. Get to know the farmer and ask pointed questions about his or her growing practices, then opt to support GMO-free growing.

Examples of trending old-world, hybrid, or artisanal ingredients would be: Hemp seed (ground or whole), Spelt, Amaranth seed, Quinoa flour, Burdock or Salsify, Raspberry Leaf or Dandelion or Moss Tea, Rose Hips, Comfrey, Romanesco, red carrots, squash, mushrooms, cucumbers, chilies, and certain fruits such as melons, and tomatoes, of course.

So, how can a consumer distinguish between real artisan food and a marketing gimmick? Try asking yourself these three questions about the product: Does a real person craft this product with care? Is it made by hand, in small batches or limited quantities using specialty old-world or artisanal ingredients? Does it reflect expertise, tradition, passion, and a refined process? To learn the answers to these questions, one would need to develop a relationship with the person who crafted the products. Though this is nearly impossible to do with supermarket, fast or frozen food products, a Chef at a restaurant will have done this legwork, and have those relationships and understand the passions and science behind the products.