Thursday, 16 February 2012

Rodale and Round 2 of Chocolat Chantilly

In my previous post, published earlier today, I wrote that I would again attempt to make Hervé This's chocolat Chantilly (for all intensive purposes, read: chocolate mousse) out of nothing more than a bar of chocolate and water. And as I write this post, I am mentally preparing myself for the challenge. Indeed, I plan to do so during (quite fittingly) the second showing of tonight's Top Chef: Texas; perhaps the on-screen culinary influence will support the molecular structure of the chocolate as it gets whipped into shape. But before I step foot into the kitchen, I do want to bring to your attention to a quite informative lecture and brief follow-up discussion I attended earlier this evening titled "A Flawed Food Production System & An Organic Solution" and presented by Jeff Moyer, Director of Farm Operations at the Rodale Institute based in Kutztown, PA.

I'll be the first to admit that my typical style of cooking doesn't necessarily bring the notion of "healthy eating" to the forefront; however, I would say that working from the start with healthy ingredients of high quality and nutritious value makes it much easier to promote a healthy lifestyle-- no matter how blatant or subtle it is. The trouble I, and perhaps many of you, find is that because of high prices, inconvenience, unavailability, etc., (the list of excuses, valid or otherwise, is perhaps an inexhaustible one) we have no choice but to purchase ingredients that don't fit the bill of high quality or nutritious value. What's troubling, then, is that the reality Jeff spoke of this evening is affirms these excuses not on the part of the consumer per se, but more so on the side of our [American] food system itself. Jeff noted two serious (and quite frankly, fatal) flaws to the food system as it stands: a farmer's success is judged on yield, and not on nutrients, quality, environmental management and the like. And of these high yields, food of low nutritious value are being produced. In many respects then it truly falls on every member of the food system--consumer and producer--to demand and uphold a different approach to what currently exists. Jeff advocates, as the title of the presentation suggests, an organic solution. As you may be able to tell from the video above, Jeff clearly knows what he's talking about; but beside his experience, doesn't it just make logical sense?

What I especially appreciated from Jeff's presentation was this quotation from Greek historian, essayist and soldier Xenophon in 400 B.C.:

"To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil."

Is it just me, or does this not speak of the importance of terroir? As I reflect on my application to graduate school, my interest in the terroir regions of France and its neighbours speaks directly to the above quotation and the cuisines that arise because of Europe's relatively higher quality and nutritious ingredients. In contrast to the Stateside approach and a system riddled with high levels of pesticides and contaminants in the ground and in our water system (e.g., atrazine), Europe has placed a cultural and healthy value to food. It is an approach that, in accordance with Jeff, we should be aiming for and not running away from. Instead of having to battle with urban deserts where healthy food is scarce and the only sources are basically liquor stores and convenience stores, our discussions should look to models that include urban farming and diverse crop rotations in areas that are arable. Here, we are talking about using already existing resources but within a different philosophy and frames of reference; without question, this highlights a key component to holistic sustainability outside of recycling programs and strictly "green" initiatives. And just as much as I advocate the questions of "where does this food come from and what does it say about who I am?", perhaps another way to reconceptualise these could take the form of "where does this food come from and how is it altering who I am?" [Random: If you haven't noticed, this photo of Xenophon is the first one I have ever left-justified on this blog. Clearly he's an important voice in terms of food.]


As I continued to ponder these questions, Top Chef's approaching hour meant I needed to get to the chocolat Chantilly. Again, referencing my early morning attempt, I went through the chocolate's melting and whisking process; this time, however, I preset a smaller bowl within the larger one, ready for the warm melted chocolate. Within minutes (as others have experienced), the chocolate transformed from watered down to the consistency of heavy whipping cream and then to just starting to thicken. As I continued to whisk (about 8-9 minutes, instead of yesterday's 45-ish minutes), the chocolate found its soft peaks. Light in consistency, while remaining rich in taste and holding its form, the chocolat Chantilly was this time around a qualified success.

Comparing this second round's mousse-like dessert against the first round's pot de crème-like is rather telling. Not only was the colour of each different (though each used the same dark chocolate with "a touch of salt"), but the volume and texture of each turned out to be different as well. At the end of the day though, I can't complain: I've got two wonderful desserts now awaiting me in the fridge for my next venture for a midnight snack. It definitely never hurts to have variety in your life! For the second (and first) round photos, click here.

To find the Rodale Institute on Facebook, click here.

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