Project 5: Fat

28 Nov

Written by Susan Oak

The French Culinary Institute’s Level 5 project is a taste what (F.C.I) students are made of. This project is for students in the classic culinary arts program (1 level away from graduation).

Eat Life’s Project 5 showcases select students so everyone can get a glimpse of the talent behind F.C.I’s kitchen doors. Introducing Susan Oak’s level 5 recipe from her project, Fat.

Susan Oak, Eat Life FCI, The French Culinary Institute's Level 5 project

There are few seemingly innocuous words that are associated with such stigma and, well, fear. I hardly need to explain myself – and I know from experience that convincing the average American that “full-figured” women used to be considered beautiful isa futile task. Columnist Dave Barry is quoted as saying “Cigarette sales would drop to zero overnight if the warning said CIGARETTES CONTAIN FAT”. Diet soda, margarine, diet pills, low-fat, egg whites, and skim are household terms. Having lived in a city like Los Angeles, where naked salads come alongside your eggs instead of buttery potatoes and the Lemonade Diet is advertised at Whole Foods, I’ve seen extremes. But times are changing. Pork fat’s deliciousness seems to outweigh the saturated fat – here in New York it’s practically a trend. Grub Street of even claims “Time Out’s Favorite 100 Foods of the Year Are a Celebration of Fatty Fat Fat”. Perhaps with a bit of help from Dr. Atkins and a decade of “foodies” and food TV, we have begun to embrace that part of food culture that we have shunned only in the last generation.

Olive oil was the first to be in vogue, touting itself as a cholesterol-lowering, “heart-healthy” oil. But every fat has some kind of benefit, as Houck outlines in his article: fat is a necessary nutrient, it provides a perfect cooking environment (and storing, i.e. confit), and it’s delicious. The fact that we need to consume necessary fats that our bodies do not make (essential fatty acids), and that many important vitamins, including A, D, E and K are fat-soluble (absorbed in our bodies with the help of lipids) is a clear argument for fat intake. Fat also protects vital organs and is used for the production of cell membranes and compounds that regulate many of our regular body functions such as the nervous system and blood pressure (Houck 2). When Atkins’ predecessor attempted to prove that man could healthily live on protein alone, he discovered that today’s lean meats would not suffice: he immediately fell ill. However, when fat was reintroduced into his meats, he lived sans health problems for a year under medical supervision. Not necessarily any doctor’s advice, but still an interesting morsel to consider.

So here I am, post three nutrition lessons at the FCI, seeking to find alternative uses for the delicious substances lumped together in the category: FAT. Experts are claiming that getting about 30% of our daily calories from fat is actually healthy. What makes most sense is that there are indeed “good” and “bad” fats. Many cultural diets, such as the Mediterranean diet include around that much or more yet have 20 times less heart disease and 10 times less cancer than Americans (Jibrin 1). However, a traditional Japanese diet includes only about 10% fat. The links appear to be the omega-3 and omega-6 ratio, which is favorable in both diets, and a low intake of saturated fats. As Americans, it is critical to be conscious of these things, since we are not limited in the scope of our diet.
It’s about choice. What kind, where from, how much. Still, if you’re like most of us, you’re shaking your head in doubt at this short discourse, obesity and heart disease statistics coming to mind. We’ve been well culturally conditioned. Trying different kinds of fats is worth exploring for flavor alone, but hopefully we’ll eventually accept it as a part of our diet, as opposed to just something “unhealthy” from which we instinctively abstain. “I love fat, whether it’s a slice of fois gras terrine, its layer of yellow fat melting at the edges; rich, soft marrow scooped hot from the bone; French butter from Normandy redolent of herbs, flowers and cream; hot bacon fat, spiked with vinegar, wilting a plate of pungent greens into submission…I love fat; I love the way it feels in my mouth and I love its many tastes”, says Jennifer McLagan, author of Fat, An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient. She’s also quite thin, in case you were wondering.

FAT MENU (select dishes to view recipes):
Spinach Salad with Spiced Walnut Oil Dressing 
asian pear, grapefruit, toasted walnuts, red onion
Cauliflower Soup with Basil-Pine Nut Oil
 seared bay scallops, croutons, toasted pine nuts
Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce
crisp sage
Pork Belly and Cucumber Salad
sesame garlic confit
Duck Confit and Duck Fat Rice Cakes
shitake mushrooms and scallions

Maple Walnut Tart with Suet Crust
olive oil ice cream, caramel sauce

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