The Dumb down Consumer

"I never knew how cruel foie gras (goose liver) is," said a friend while we were having dinner together. I looked wide-eyed and half amused at the comment. She knew how goose and ducks were force-fed but it never dawn on her on how cruel it was. She was quite detached about the cruelty issue.

Call me a snob and elitest, I scoff at people who don't care where what they are eating comes from or how it was grown or processed. You should be aware of what you are eating. Sad to say, many of us are pretty much dumb-down consumers.

The dumb-down result didn't just happen over-night. Here in Singapore, since 1970s, consumers were slowly created and the dumbing down process begun.

I would also say it is the lack of awareness, the disconnection of our agricultural roots and the cover-ups from industralised food chain producers that helped evolute people into the such un-educated detached consumer.

"Don't tell me how it was processed or where it comes from, how endangered it is, I don't wanna know, as long as it taste good, I don't care."
- a closet-eyed self declared gourmet acquaintance

For me, I use to be an un-aware eater with a strange curious yearning on how food was cooked and where it was grown. I had grown a little disgusted at mass-produced food and how food affect and harm our environment. Endangered animals and seafood are still being eaten, and more animals and fishes are reaching endangered levels. Our land continue to be poisoned by growing pesticide and nitrogen based fertilisers. We have de-evoluted into a singular crop based agriculture and industralised food chain. Many of our beautiful wide-range fruits, vegetables and other produce has been on a steep decline to extinction.

Reading the local food forums, often I come across self-declared food gourmets raving about some rare and endangered produce. Here in Singapore, we are known as food lovers, however I beg to differ. These so-call foodies are rather ignorant gluttons. Most are obsessed about eating, but don't really care much about how the food was produced.

For me, the worst kind of person is the kind who is all too happy to eat anything and turn a blind eye, brushing under the carpet where food comes from and how it was treated. We need to be aware of what we are eating only then we can make our own decisions, judgements and actions. These very decisions and actions affect our environment, our planet.

Alice Louise Waters , influential American food activist on sustainable food, once said "Eating is a political act, and the choices you make have consequences beyond the table"

Article : The Science of the Perfect Souffle

The Science of the Perfect Souffle
by Joe Palca
Weekend Edition Sunday, February 17, 2008

Owner and chef Jeffrey Buben gives a cooking lesson in making a perfect souffle at his Washington, D.C. restaurant Vidalia.

Science in the kitchen is largely the chemistry kind — the properties of two liquids mixing, the transformation of bread into toast, the breakdown of starches into sugars. But do you ever think about velocity or gravity in your cooking? It turns out, beating eggs is all about science — and it's physics and chemistry that make a souffle rise or fall.

Though I've beaten plenty of eggs in my day, for an expert opinion on the subject I turned to Jeffrey Buben, owner and head chef at Vidalia, a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The first step in making an egg dish like meringue or a souffle, Buben says, is to separate the yolks from the whites, the fat from the protein.

Fat and protein — remember that. The yolk has fat and some protein, but the white is all protein, no fat.

"When I was growing up in the kitchen," Buben says, "the chefs would say 'no goldfish.' And what they meant was… sometimes when you separate eggs you get a little nip of the egg yolk in the whites and that would fall into the bowl. And if you brought the chef a bowl of egg whites that had goldfish in it… he would pretty much throw you out of the kitchen and tell you to start all over again."

So why is it so important to make sure there aren't any goldfish in the egg whites? Because remember, yolks have fat in them.

When you beat egg whites, you're basically mixing air into them. The protein in the egg whites forms a kind of skin around the bubbles of air. But if there's any fat present, the skin can't form and the air leaks away. Even a trace of fat is ruinous. So, no goldfish if you want a souffle.

Just the Right Amount of Air

There are some tricks to getting just the right amount of air into your egg whites.

Use a very clean bowl, Buben says, and keep a "nice, even flow of beating to incorporate the air. And you don't want to over-beat them and have too thick a mixture that it won't fold into your souffle or your batter or your sponge."

With that, Buben's ready to start cooking. He's wearing a spotless white chef's jacket, checked pants, and those clogs that all chefs seem to favor. He has a large, clean, stainless-steel bowl — some say copper bowls work better, but he's not convinced. He also has a large whisk and a carton of fresh eggs.

He picks one up, holds it over his work table, and tells me something surprising.

"You always want to crack an egg on a flat surface," Buben says. "What that does is it gives you less shell shatter, so that when you go to add it to a recipe, you won't get little shards of shell in your recipe. So it comes with a much cleaner crack, one crack on a flat surface."

So not on an edge?

"Not on an edge," Buben says.

Buben cracks open an egg and lets the white spill into one bowl. Then he plops the yolk into a different bowl. He repeats this with two more eggs.

You can tell he's practiced at this. For those not as expert as Buben in separating eggs, you might want to put each egg's white into a small bowl, inspect it for goldfish, and only then add it to your mixing bowl.

Buben picks up his whisk and starts to work on the egg whites.

"Now what I like to do," he says, "is start in circle eights, just to break up the egg whites. Then you want to go in a circular motion. Turn your bowl at about a 15 degree angle, and just keep whipping it, and try to get as much air in as quickly as possible.

"We were doing a party last month, and we were whipping egg whites by hand, and they said, 'I can't believe people still whip egg whites by hand.' And I said, 'I didn't know there was any other way,'" Buben laughs.

The Architecture of a Souffle

About four minutes later at a steady 180 beats per minute, our egg whites have transformed.

"What we're looking for now is nice beautiful peaks," Buben explains. "Some chefs that I learned from say the point where you have the meringue perfect is when you just lose the shine from the egg whites... And we're getting very, very close to that point."

He finishes beating, and the whites are as light as air. But their architecture is fragile, Buben says, "so you have to move very quickly with it, and be very gentle."

Move quickly because the air can still leak out of the tiny protein pockets, and move gently because the protein skins are thin and will collapse easily.

He uses his whisk to mix the egg yolks and then uses a rubber spatula to gently add the stiff egg-white mixture to the yolks. He folds the two just until the whites are incorporated, then places the whole thing into a baking dish.

When the egg mixture is baked in a 350-degree oven, those air bubbles trapped in the egg whites expand, making the souffle rise. The heat also causes the protein to stiffen a bit, and along with the fat from the yolk, it forms a kind of scaffold that keeps the souffle from collapsing.

After six minutes, Buben checks on his omelet souffle. "Oh, isn't that beautiful," he says, pulling it from the oven.

The egg mixture has nearly doubled in volume.

Now I'd probably eat it as is, but Buben has bigger ideas. While the souffle was in the oven, he made a reduction of wine and shallots and stirred in some butter. Now he spoons that mixture over the souffle, topping it off with a few shavings of black truffle.

A couple of glasses of red wine appear.

The glasses clink.

"Bon appetit," he smiles.

And you wonder why I love my job.

Jeffrey Buben is owner and head chef of Vidalia restaurant in Washington, D.C.
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