Blogs > Cooking from Scratch

Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If It's Not Food - Don't Eat It!

Saturday morning on my way into the office, I noticed a sign for grass-fed beef at my neighborhood makeshift Farmer’s Market. Many of you know that I have real reservations about, and mostly abstain from, eating meat and poultry, for numerous reasons, ranging from animal welfare, economics, to unabashed food-snobbery.

As a chef, I’m passionate about good food, of course, perhaps bordering on somewhat of an obsession. From a political or economic standpoint, the issues of food quality, point of origin, processing, distribution, and consumption can be so complex on so many different levels (which we’ve very briefly explored in previous blog posts). Because our first love is our love of food, we offer almost any kind of class you can imagine. Tonight as I type my blog, the wonderful aroma of garlic and onions are wafting underneath my closed door, as the students in the classroom are learning about vegan & vegetarian cuisine.

At Mirepoix, we believe that good health, quality of life, and excellent tasting food can all be enjoyed simultaneously. Surrounded by conflicting and sometimes complicated messages about food and nutrition, we strive to help people to make educated choices.

Over the years, we’ve all been inundated by fad diet philosophies (low fat, low carb, Sugar Busters, vegetarian, raw food, vegan, etc.) only to find out that a new plan will hit the Best Seller list. Good foods, bad foods, on and on. The Mirepoix Cooking School credo is simple – If it’s not food, don’t eat it!

Sounds over-simplified, but it’s true. The American diet has shifted from eating whole, natural, and local (or even home-grown) foods, to consuming more than half of our daily calories from processed, packaged foodstuffs made in a factory somewhere. Most of the meat and dairy products we consume in this country are raised, produced, and processed in a manner that would appall and disappoint almost any responsible human.

At Mirepoix, we have very strict and straightforward quality standards for our ingredients (we use natural & cruelty free meats and dairy products, and choose local ingredients & products whenever possible).

Now more than ever, there is a serious disconnect from the source and origin of what we pile onto our plates. Behind even the most ubiquitous shrink-wrapped boneless skinless chicken breast is a story, and most of the time, you wouldn’t want to hear it.

The good news is, you have choices!

When people hear “vegetarian”, they typically think of tofu and other meat substitutes. I, however, always stress the opposite. Many people decide to “go veg”, and their eating habits sometimes become worse than the habits they held to before! Many people on a vegetarian diet tend to eat too many carbohydrates and processed foods, rather than the healthy whole foods they need.

Tonight’s class has a recipe that features tofu and soy milk (vegan chocolate cupcakes). Typically tofu, temphe, seitan, and other “meat replacements” are more processed than I personally prefer. If my ultimate goal is to eat “real food” or “responsible food”, for me, these things do not fall into that category. Though I am a supporter of animal rights, and anti-animal cruelty, I would prefer to eat a naturally raised, free-range, non-commercially processed local chicken than to eat faux chicken or something out of a package. Stricter folks than I would never consider eating animal protein, and for them, there are other excellent and healthful ways to keep protein in their diets.

Soy milk is often flavored and high in sugar. The only soy milk we use in our classes is Eden Unsweetened Soy Milk (although I prefer West Soy plain). For me, soy “cheeses” are completely out of the question and I would NEVER, from a chef’s or a natural foodist’s perspective cook them, eat them, or recommend them.

Because or starting point is our genuine love of food, all of our cooking classes feature nothing artificial, and very few “reduced fat” items. Instead, we reduce the amounts of full fat ingredients where appropriate, and compliment them with naturally lower fat (read: not chemically stabilized) ingredients.

When you’re a chef, having access to all of this incredible food can be a dangerous thing! Most of the staff at Mirepoix watch our waistlines for practical reasons. 4 cooking classes a week can add up to some SERIOUS calories! For those of us who still want to enjoy great tasting food, without compromising the integrity of the dish, we eat less of the full-fat stuff and know that we can be satisfied with just a taste or two. We believe in moderation, quality, using proper cooking techniques, and stressing ingredient knowledge, so that we can make delicious recipes everyone can enjoy.

Many can rightly argue that eating better quality food (unprocessed) is expensive and out of reach for many. I will never argue against that point, or try to marginalize the desperate economic restraints that impact the quality of food served at the dinner tables across our country and all over the world. The economics of the plate can be complicated, but, for the purposes of narrowing them for the average middle-class American, responsibly raised and produced food can be within reach.

Because I feel so strongly about the quality of the food I eat and serve, and the story behind it, there are certain things I will not buy. Personally, I do not buy Land O Lakes dairy products because reports have shown that their treatment of livestock is inhumane (and that’s being polite). This doesn’t mean that I buy excessive amounts of expensive European style butter to stock my fridge at home, or even pounds and pounds of the pricier, but local “Calder’s”. It simply means that I spend my money on what seems appropriate, and I use it sparingly. There is also an innate ability that chefs have to enjoy pure food and its nuances (real food without all of the butter and salt!)

There is a notion in America that we “need” to eat heavy portions of meat and other animal products, and we’ve even fooled ourselves into thinking that it’s good for us. The fact is, a true serving size of animal protein is much, much smaller than what we typically eat (think 2/3 less) or “need” to feel satisfied. With the money spent on all of the extra, mass-produced chicken you don’t really need, you could buy (albeit less) higher-quality, more responsibly raised and processed ingredient(Bell & Evans, or a local farmer, etc.).

Of course, these are just our recommendations and guidelines, and I’ve only superficially scratched the surface of the economic, political, and social issues surrounding this topic. Regardless of what we recommend, you will make the best selections in your kitchen at home, based on your unique lifestyle.

Whether flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, focus on flavor, good food, and moderation, and your body will run like the beautifully designed machine it is.

Don't forget about our Cooking From Scratch Recipe Contest! The deadline for entry is August 7!

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