Is this Stuffing or Dressing?

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Stuffing or Dressing? That is the question which often rages every Thanksgiving as chefs plan their printed menus. The correct answer, actually, depends on where their restaurant is located.

From a culinary point of view, “stuffing” is what is cooked inside the turkey because, well, it is “stuffed inside.” Makes sense, no? “Dressing” refers to the savory mixture that is cooked outside the turkey, “dressing” up or enhancing the serving platter.

From a regional viewpoint, north of the Mason-Dixon Line, “stuffing” is called stuffing. That’s because “stuffing” is an old British word, dating back to at least 1538. Its use in the northern part of the United States still reflects the English heritage of America’s early settlers.

South of the Mason-Dixon Line, stuffing is generally called “dressing.” This shift in word choice occurred because holiday dining in the South was historically centered around the great rural plantations and elegant townhouses of Charleston, Atlanta and New Orleans.

There, with the help of skilled black slaves in the kitchen, dining was a far more formal affair than in the rural farms of the North. The baronial Scottish heritage of many of the wealthy white families dictated that the turkey be elaborately “dressed” with stuffing arranged outside the bird, hence the word “dressing.”

After the Civil War, many former kitchen slaves left the South and found first-time paid employment in the kitchens of Northern hotels and in the dining cars of the Pullman trains heading west. As a result, the use of the word “dressing” moved out of the South and spread across the nation, mingling with the local use of the word “stuffing.” Today it’s basically a personal word choice as both words are generally interchangeable to modern diners.

As to what is the best recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing, however, has remained largely a regional decision. In the North, a bread stuffing made with onions, celery, thyme and sage is the norm while in the Carolinas a rice dressing is the more traditional choice.

Cornbread dressing is a Deep South favorite, with diced ham, country bacon or smoked sausage added. During the Victorian era, both New England and Louisiana cooks favored oysters mixed into the stuffing/dressing. Today this tradition is being revived as both areas are working hard to restore their over-harvested oyster beds.

In Chicago and surrounding parts of the Midwest, where there are large Eastern European communities, rye or other heavy Bohemian-style breads are often used to make a heartier but great tasting stuffing. Meanwhile in California, creative cooks use sourdough bread from San Francisco’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf as the basis for their stuffing/dressing mixed with other innovative ingredients such as artichokes. However in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, a corn-based tamale stuffing made with pulled pork, red chilies and rich raisins is a holiday must.

So this Thanksgiving, you can correctly add any of these amazing stuffings/dressings to your menu. Just remember to stir in “diversity” and “mutual respect” to enhance the feast and strengthen the future of the world.

The Chef’s Most Important Job

by Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures

Sitting down at a tucked away desk in the back of the kitchen, a chef begins the process of planning the next seasonal menu change. There is an over-riding thematic core to the restaurant with an emphasis  on those comfort foods that people are familiar with, but always with a touch of flair — a unique signature that is drawn from the chef’s experiences.

The chef always approaches the process with a list of those ingredients that are at the peak of maturity over the next few months, an understanding of general perceptions by the dining public regarding which foods make sense during this time of year, and of course, the ability of the restaurants’ cadre of cooks.

For the three years that the chef has held this position, she has invested time with training her cooks’ palates. This has been one of the more challenging, yet enjoyable parts of the job. When a line cook “got it” — when he or she reached a point where the flavor of an ingredient and a completed dish could be envisioned and the process of cooking adjusted to reach that goal, then that cook really did have a handle on his or her craft.

Cooking, as the chef often said, is much more than a process of assembling ingredients and following a recipe. Great cooking is intuitive, flexible and based more on problem-solving than most cooks realize. The variables to effective cooking are immense. There are so many factors that come into play: ingredient maturity, point of origin, how the ingredients were stored, cooking process, time, etc. etc. A solid cook knows that the recipe is a guide, one of the many tools at his or her disposal, but using recipes without a real understanding of what impacts flavor, and how to build toward an understanding of how the dish should taste, is far too shallow.

The chef returns to her planning for the fall menu with all of these factors in mind. Even with the breadth of great fall ingredients — late season squash, root vegetables like beets, parsnips and carrots and local heirloom potatoes and onions — there will still be a need to integrate some of those items that come from a greenhouse, hydroponics or cold storage. The flavor that those secondary ingredients bring will always be unpredictable. This is where that understanding of flavor comes into play. Knowing how to work with these ingredients is just as important as understanding how the finished dish should taste.

Whenever possible, the chef cooks for her staff, demonstrating how the finished product should be developed and embedding flavors along the way so that they can begin to understand how to problem-solve and work towards the eventual flavor goal. Nothing can substitute for a sun-ripened July tomato, but what can be done to recover some of that experience with a hydroponic tomato in December? The chef knows that oven drying those commodity tomatoes with a touch of quality olive oil and pinch of sea salt can convert a flavorless, box ripened tomato into one that is sweet, pleasant and acceptable in a recipe.

From her experience the chef can call up solutions to challenges as they arise, but she can’t be on every station helping with every dish. So as the menu comes into shape, she makes her side notes on the training and teaching that need to be at the forefront of menu transition. She knows that it will take time, but it will work.

The chef has seen the palates of her cooks improve every season, and along with that, their confidence. It thrills her to watch the line on a busy night as each cook takes the time to taste and adjust seasoning throughout the cooking process. They are learning how to build flavors, how to problem-solve variances in ingredients and reach the goal of consistently great cooking every time.

Cooking is an art and a science and it is impossible to become a great cook without understanding how to blend both disciplines. The best cooks must always taste, taste and taste again. They must understand the ingredients and how season, soil, rain, sun and other terroir factors impact on their characteristics.

The best cooks visit farms and taste that ear of corn right when it is snapped off the stalk (no cooking required), savor the early June strawberry right from the plant, taste a carrot pulled directly from the soil, fry an egg an hour after retrieving it from the hen house, and get overwhelmed by the smell of fresh herbs when harvested minutes before use. The best cooks learn constantly until, like the chef, that process of building and working with a menu is second nature. They can envision how a dish will turn out while factoring in all of those environmental variations.

The best chefs know that training and building this level of confidence with the process of cooking is by far their most important job.

Forbidden Foods from the “Devil’s Pantry”

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Foods strange and unusual have always moved in and out of culinary acceptance. Yet some of a modern chef’s most utilized ingredients have followed an amazing path from popular rejection to the professional kitchen pantry.

Potatoes

Today potatoes appear in most cuisines around the world. Yet if you were French during the 1600s, you might have actively avoided potatoes. Recently imported from the New World and so strange looking to the Europeans, the clergy and scientists of the day declared the potato’s twisted shape an indicator of leprosy. For those brave souls who did not die by eating the potato, it was predicted that they would certainly develop rampant, unchecked sexual urges.

Potatoes were culturally banned until the French agricultural pioneer Antoine-Augustin Parmentier began promoting the potato in the late 1700s. Parmentier started a publicity campaign to generate a more positive image for the potato by hosting a series of elaborate feasts where potato dishes were served to famous, supportive celebrities like Benjamin Franklin.

To further increase the potato’s desirability, he hired armed guards to protect his own potato patch during the day but withdrew the soldiers at night, enabling the now re-educated local farmers to steal and later plant the potatoes. It worked – soon everyone was eating potatoes.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes were equally thought by many during the 18th and 19th centuries to be poisonous. This was believed because at several political dinners where tomatoes were served, rival political candidates died. And while the lowly tomato was blamed, more likely it was the popular pewter dinner plates, high in lead content, that were the fatal culprit.

The fate of the tomato was turned around by, among other events, America’s love affair with pizza. When poor immigrants from southern Italy arrived in America, they brought with them their traditional flat bread topped with a tomato sauce, cheese, vegetables and small amount of precious meat. Lacking the poisonous pewter plates preferred by the wealthy, they had never considered the tomato deadly. As a result, once in America they opened many small pizzerias and made their favorite dish part of American cuisine, thanks in part to endless generations of hungry college students.

Tuna

Tuna is today the most widely eaten fish in America, but it took some innovative publicity to get the tasty, healthy saltwater fish to the grocery shelves. In the early 1900s, yellowfin and skipjack tuna varieties were avoided by fishermen. Chefs avoided them as “junk fish” because most American diners at that time preferred a fish with a lighter, whiter meat like sole or cod.

But with the food scarcity created by World War I and later by the Great Depression of the 1930s, former forms of protein became unavailable. The “problem” was solved by simply labeling once-rejected tuna as the “Chicken of the Sea.” The new name enabled Americans to shift their seafood preference. Today the tuna fish sandwich is a classic lunch favorite that nearly every American child and adult have savored.

Lobster

Considered today a luxury dish, lobsters were once considered inappropriate for any restaurant’s menu. For centuries, lobsters were seen as suitable only for prisoners and the poor. Indeed, until the 19th Century, lobsters were considered such a pest, they were caught and ground up as a fertilizer for New England’s rocky fields!

Chefs can thank the Western expansion of the American railroad for elevating the lowly lobster to its present culinary height. For nearly a century, from the late 1800s to the early 1950s, American trains offered an elegant mode of travel. Any food on the train’s menu, including the humble lobster, was instantly elevated to elite culinary status by association. Indeed lobster was so often ordered, it was one of the few luxury foods not rationed during World War II to the delight of many a weary G.I. No longer plentiful due to over-harvesting and global warming, the lobster’s scarcity now contributes to its high price and luxury status.

Peanuts

Peanuts were once considered a food suitable only for black slaves in the South. A food indigenous to their African homeland, peanuts were initially linked to extreme poverty. When Southern crops failed during the Civil War, white Confederate soldiers abandoned their culinary prejudice and fought off starvation by eating the protein-rich peanuts.

As the nation healed from the wounds of war, many communities learned to laugh again while attending the touring P.T. Barnum Circus where “Hot Roasted Peanuts” took on a more joyful meaning of fun and fellowship. The tradition of eating peanuts in public would continue as it spread to baseball stadiums and movie theaters.

The peanut’s growing social appreciation came full circle when the African-American botanist George Washington Carver created over 100 unique recipes utilizing the peanut, including the omnipresent American childhood favorite: peanut butter.

American chefs are always incorporating new ingredients into their dishes and, if the past can be a guideline, they have nothing to fear in the new, the different and the unique. What today is seen as strange will often become tomorrow’s popular “must have” ingredient — because nothing is more enduring than change.

The ACF’s Publications are Getting an Upgrade

by Jocelyn Tolbert

More than 15,000 ACF member chefs and subscribers read The National Culinary Review (NCR), the ACF’s bi-monthly magazine delivering timely information on food, beverage and menu trends, management/lifestyle issues, health and professional development, in one of its two forms: a print magazine and a digital one. 

Thousands of readers also visit Sizzle, our quarterly digital publication for culinary students, every month on its website and app.

If you’re one of those readers, you may have noticed that those publications are not available online as usual.

While the magazines disappearing from their respective websites at this time isn’t ideal, it’s all part of new beginnings for NCR, Sizzle and We Are Chefs that we’re so excited to be able to tell you about now.

Firstly, in January 2019, the print version of NCR is getting a complete redesign. These updates will bring the 87-year-old print magazine more in line with its contemporaries — a modern look, updated branding and refreshed editorial focus.

The biggest changes, however, are happening in the digital realm. Currently, digital subscribers flip through the pages of Sizzle and NCR as if they were looking at a physical print publication. Members have said this “digital magazine” format isn’t an ideal reading experience, and current web trends tell the same story.

So, beginning with the January/February issue, the online version of NCR will be presented like any other web content — readable right in the browser of your smartphone, tablet or computer. Readers will be able to easily share articles on social media and interact with the magazine like never before. 

Everything will merge here on wearechefs.com — which is also getting a new, fresh face, video, social media integration and more. Sizzle will be updated more regularly. All publications will offer more diverse opportunities for readers to be a part of the conversation.

A subscription will still be required to read most NCR articles. It’s our hope that the value of that subscription will only increase with these exciting changes.

While this transformation is being implemented, both NCR and Sizzle are still available to read in PDF format. Log in to the member portal to read NCR online, or visit this link to read the most recent issues of Sizzle.

Please pardon our dust while these changes take place. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us by emailing pr [at] acfchefs.net.

10 ways to create a culture of excellence in your kitchen

by Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures

Are you a chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, a AAA-four-diamond operation, a family style neighborhood café, a decades-old hamburger diner on a major U.S. highway or a busy breakfast restaurant serving those hungry blue collar tradespeople en route to a hard days work? It makes no difference whatsoever as long as you are committed to excellence. Each one of these operations is an important representative of what the American restaurant is all about, how we are perceived as an industry, and how respected our craft.

Excellence has little to do with the size of the guest check, or, should I say, it need not be connected. Those four-diamond operations live by a set of standards that calls for no mistakes, but if they occur it is critical that the operation recover beyond the guests’ expectations. Why would this be any different in that breakfast operation or hamburger joint? The overused adage “you get what you pay for” no longer carries any weight in an economy where competition is fierce. Restaurants, more often than not, fail based on their lack of commitment to excellence. This connection is more important than location, more important than the money spent on décor, more important than their efforts with marketing, and far more important than the size of the guest check.

Excellence and value are inextricably connected. When excellence is pervasive through the operation then guests see value in what is offered. “Is it worth it” is the most important song that a restaurant guest sings.

So how can a restaurant strive for excellence regardless of price tag? Here are ten simple ideas to implement in any operation with an eye on excellence:

THE HANDSHAKE OF THE HOST DETERMINES THE FLAVOR OF THE ROAST
We should never forget that we are in the hospitality business. Our primary job is to be consistently welcoming. This means that every employee is a host who has the opportunity to bring a ray of sunshine to a guest’s day. This hospitality must be evident in how employees treat each other as well as the guest. Make people feel like they are important and they will return time and again. This is the first step in creating an aura of excellence.

“Excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude.” – Ralph Marston

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
Excellence never works if it is isolated to a portion of the restaurant experience — it must be evident in all of the details. The attention to landscaping, parking lot cleanliness, lighting, signage, spotless windows, quality menus, the greeting at the door, the friendly approach by a server, the flavor and presentation of the food, the attentiveness of the server throughout the meal and the warm “thank you” at the end of the encounter are essential elements of an excellent experience. It’s all about sweating the details.

REAL SERVICE
Real service is not synonymous with proper technical service. Technical service is only a part of the experience — to be real, service must be sincere. Teaching your staff to relish the opportunity to serve and understand how important their role is in bringing customers back is a good start, but to be pervasive the service attitude must be part of everyone’s make-up from the cook to the dishwasher.

DON’T CUT CORNERS
There is no room for varying from the standard of excellence that you establish. If your focus is the good old American hamburger, then make sure that the bun is always fresh and properly toasted; the lettuce is fresh, crisp, and free of rust; the tomato is mature, evenly sliced and flavorful; the hamburger comprised of the right mix of meat and appropriate meat to fat ratio; the patty is properly grilled; the condiments of the best quality and the pickle the best that you can buy (or make in-house); the side order just as detailed, and the plate warm and spotless. The guest should be able to hear the crunch as they bite through that toasted bun and feel the snap of the crisp lettuce as they bite into a moist, hot, and full-flavored burger. When the juice from the hamburger drips slightly down the guests chin then you know that excellence is at work. It’s is not hard — it’s what is known as pride and commitment in what you do! This same method applies to a plate of eggs over easy, or a Wagyu steak — excellence has no price tag.

BE CONSISTENT
A restaurant that is committed to excellence knows that the cardinal sin is not being consistent with this way of doing business. When excellence is a habit then the guest can trust that their experience will always be of the highest caliber.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF CLEANLINESS
Excellence and cleanliness go hand in hand. A clean operation is one that breathes life into the experience. From the kitchen floor to the restrooms, legs of dining tables, windows, counter tops, salt shakers, china and flatware — when the restaurant is truly clean, the quality of the guest experience is heightened.

CREATE A CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE
It always comes down to the people who wear your uniform, tie on an apron, or stand at the door as a welcoming host. The job of the owner, manager or chef is to instill in their employees a serious desire to serve, to be excellent and to never accept mediocrity as a standard. Hire right, train properly and set the example of excellence — this is how a culture is created.

PROFESSIONALISM
Treat your employees well and they will treat your guests well. This rings true in any business, but especially in those focused on hospitality. When employees are happy, proud, and well-trained, they will wear the attitude of professionalism. When management and employees treat each other with respect, just as all professionals do, a sense of unified purpose will be felt throughout the operation. This, as every other point in this article, is not related to the prices on your menu. It can exist in any type of restaurant operation.

BE THE EXAMPLE
Finally, in excellent operations it is the leadership that sets the example for others to follow. In excellent operations the guest pays attention to the cumulative examples of excellence that begin at the top. When the example is set, then the team will understand what is expected of them.

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs