We Are Chefs – The Official Blog of the American Culinary Federation
We Are Chefs is American Culinary Federation’s blog focusing on issues affecting chefs, student culinarians and food from an industry perspective. Blog topics will focus on issues affecting chefs, students and food from an industry perspective as well as in-depth features on food and culture.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT
Halloween is the holiday that invites the world to enjoy candy and chocolate. Americans alone will buy 90 million pounds of chocolate in just the week before Halloween, generating an annually revenue for candy bar manufacturers of over $2.75 billion!
Yet all is not cavities and sugar highs. Ghosts and goblins have been celebrated (and feared) around the world for centuries, and immigration brought those diverse traditions to America, enriching and broadening our national culture.
In the early days of the country, conservative Puritan New England did not approve of the holiday or any other joyous holiday for that matter. They believed that such days of merriment and fun distracted from the more serious contemplation of the divine.
It was in the South, where the Church of England held sway, that Halloween gained its first foothold in colonial America. Though sometimes denounced as “the Devil’s birthday” by a local pastor, the holiday featured harvest festivals, elaborate dances and balls, playing games, wearing costumes and even a bit of harmless mischief-making.
These practices came from the Anglican and Catholic traditions of England, when on the eve of All Saints’ Day, the churchgoers remembered and celebrated “all the saints.” Within a short time, “all hallow [honor] the Eve” was shortened to “Hallowe’en” by Southern Colonialists.
Southern children enjoyed dressing in costumes and going door-to-door singing prayers or reciting poetry in exchange for treats such as pralines and caramel apples. Inside, adults livened up their evening with forerunners of such legendary beverages as the Chatham Artillery Punch, considered by many as the strongest drink in America.
Spanish colonists in the areas that would later become the American Southwest added Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead to American holiday traditions. Celebrated on October 31, the same date as the Anglican Southern holiday, candy sugar skulls and graveyard imagery became part of the expanding national Halloween traditions along with caramel flans and tamarind flavored drinks.
When over half a million Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s, fleeing the starvation of potato famine, arrived in America they added their Celtic traditions to Halloween. In ancient Ireland, the holiday was known as Samhain and was the largest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year.
The Celts believed that during the last days of October, the ghosts of the dead would try to mingle with the living. The ancient Irish sacrificed animals and displayed scary carved fruits and vegetables to keep the harmful ghosts, spirits and demons away from the living.
Missionaries such as St. Patrick converted the Celts to Christianity and sought to wipe out the “pagan” holiday. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the priests simply converted the pagan holiday to Christian celebration: Halloween.
Even the pre-Christian spice cakes were renamed as “soul cakes” and enriched with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and raisins to ‘spice up’ the experience of conversion. Each sweet cake was topped with a cross to remind the diner of its origin.
Celtic revelers often wore masks to confuse hostile angry spirits looking for their living relatives. That tradition carried over to America where today’s masks are modeled on characterized images of envied movie stars and disliked politicians.
Halloween has been largely enhanced by the many immigrants who added their many traditions to America’s culture. Given the enduring benefit of the contributions made by immigrants from pralines to spice cakes, we should say perhaps a grateful, “Thank You!” rather then a hurried (and commercialized) “Trick or Treat.”
Whenever there’s a hurricane, like Hurricane Florence that hit the Carolinas last month, people around the country will see news images of torrential rainfall, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway as people evacuate to safety, and trees fighting — and often succumbing to — rough winds. But what they usually don’t see is what happens next — what Geoff Blount, ACF Myrtle Beach President, describes as “flooding of Biblical proportions” that is caused when the waters of five rivers all converge and move in their direction.
“People saw the devastation from a hurricane,” he says. “What hit us here was not a hurricane; what hit us here was all the floods from the hurricane that was North of us.”
And people watching the national news also won’t see what Blount did to help those on the outskirts of Myrtle Beach who were in need of meals and comfort. Since the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach, where Blount teaches baking and pastry arts, was going to be closed, he decided to use the time — and the food delivery that the school received on the same day as the evacuation — to mobilize his students and area chefs to cook meals at ICI’s Conway campus. The meals were then distributed by the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach student volunteers pitching in to make 600 portions of chicken and rice bog. Photo by Geoff Blount
As soon as he put out a call for help on Facebook, the culinary community was quick to assist. Blount received food donations from several chefs, including ACF member Amy Sins of New Orleans, who is no stranger to the aftermath of hurricanes and the devastation they can cause.
“As someone who went through Katrina — eight feet of water in my house, about 12 in my garage, and a resident of the levee break on the 17th Street canal in New Orleans — I knew what was going to happen in the Carolinas if the flood water rises,” she says. “Food makes people feel better, so you always want to get a hot meal in the hands of someone in need. I’ve learned that during disaster situations, that is not easy. The logistics can be overwhelming. Everything from flooded streets, rising backwaters, relocation of shelters to the lack of running water and electricity.”
Loading meals being flown to North and South Carolina Hurricane Florence survivors. Photo by Jay Vise
In order to help make people in South Carolina feel better, Sins worked tirelessly with her network of professionals to cook 1,200 pounds of food in the Second Harvest Kitchen, and arranged to have it delivered by a private plane. This contribution, which Blount and his team were able to use to make 2,000 meals, included items such as hummus, shrimp creole, grits and butter beans. In addition, he received donations from other chefs including 10,000 cookies from the DoubleTree Hotel and 800 pounds of chicken from the ACF Triad chapter. When it was all said and done, over the course of 18 days, Blount and his team produced 15,400 meals that were given to evacuees, as well as the first responders, National Guardsmen, and police officers involved in the relief efforts.
And if given the chance, Blount and Sins would do it all over again.
“Things like this let you remember that there is something about our humanity that is still good,” Blount says. “We’re not all just looking out for ourselves, we are trying to look out for each other and help each other. Sometimes I know that’s in question, when people are just mean and rude, but then something like this happens and you see a community come together.”