By Liz Castner, Pastry & Baking Arts and Culinary Management Student
Every year, ICE Culinary Management students are exposed to some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the business. These industry leaders generously take time out of their busy schedules to share their stories and offer advice to the next generation of restauranteurs.
Most recently, my class was lucky enough to visit Chef David Bouley’s whimsical TriBeCa restaurant, Bouley Botanical. Filled with window gardens, a gleaming kitchen, film equipment and every type of new culinary gadgetry you can imagine, Bouley Botanical is a culinary fairytale of sorts. Chef Bouley has clearly succeeded in creating a foodie fantasy.
Bouley Botanical’s success should come as no surprise, as Chef has a long history as an innovator in the restaurant business. He has studied in France under some of the most masterful chefs in the world and is credited with opening Montrachet, which revolutionized New York City Restaurant culture. His success is largely attributable to his attention to detail and devotion to exceptional service. He shared with us the importance he places on a well-crafted tasting menu, as well as investing time in understanding what his guests like to eat. This enables him to provide patrons with the best meal possible, his primary goal as a chef.
While Bouley’s bio for the Meet The Culinary Entrepreneurs event series only mentions it briefly, the chef emphasized the importance of health and wellness as central to his business. Bouley has dedicated his life to learning anything and everything he can about health in different ways. I really admire this aim, because while many chefs are interested in nutrition, most chefs consider dining out as a departure (as opposed to a central part of) their guest’s nutritional needs. Bouley also is essentially a Mother Nature purist. He views it as his responsibility to take the best that nature can offer and make it even more delicious, while maintaining its nutritional content.
I consider myself fairly well-educated on the subject of health, but the tidbits he shared with us blew my mind. One fact he relayed to us is one that I had heard before, but never stopped to really examine: each plant food provides our body with nutrients, but the way that we prepare that food can diminish the quality of what it has to offer. Garlic, for example, is one of the healthiest foods we can eat, but according to Bouley, most of us are overcooking it, diminishing the positive health impact of eating it in the first place. Similarly, we are all ruining the properties of green tea, which should never be heated to over 150-160 degrees. With the boiling temp of water at 212, we are basically murdering those leaves every time we heat the kettle to a boil and pour over them.
Bouley also shared some facts that I had never heard before. He explained that our plants have changed, and as a result, the gluten that we develop from our wheat has changed as well. While gluten for wheat used to be primarily water-soluble and easy for our body to digest, it is now mainly fat-soluble, making it more difficult for our body to process. This is why gluten has become increasingly difficult for people to digest comfortably, and helps explains why those without a known gluten allergy still feel better when they forgo eating gluten.
Trained in pastry, Chef Bouley has been working on using alternative plants to make breads and chips. He gave us a chip made out of kuzu – the leaves of a flowering vine given to the United States by the Japanese – topped with a kind of cheese and truffle oil: simply delicious.
Chef Bouley has educated himself not only on how to best consume all of what nature can give us, but has also studied the ways in which science can enhance what nature provides. He drinks only kangen water, which is ionized to a pH value of 9.5. According to Bouley, water with a pH of 9.5 is the optimum water for human consumption because it does all the things that water is really supposed to do for the human body. It detoxifies and washes away toxins we’ve taken in, it hydrates our cells and it provides us with the oxygen and hydrogen molecules our body needs.
Keeping with the health focus, next on the horizon for Chef Bouley is a plan to educate and help the general population get the most out of natural products. He is filming the production of what he calls “Building Blocks: Ingredients in a Living Pantry” to show consumers how to best use food products to make quality, nutritious and efficient meals at home.
Examples of these building blocks include showing viewers how to roast fresh garlic to the appropriate “blonde caramel” stage and then use that product to make garlic puree and garlic oils, which can be used in a number of applications. Others examples include demos for parsley water, various applications for vanilla and the many ways to use herbs in cooking. The shorts are beautifully filmed in-house at Bouley Botanicals and are hugely inspiring, showing what a master does to get the best of his ingredients. Bouley sees this living pantry as a way of prepping the mise en place for all your meals, of preserving ingredients that can go bad, and most importantly, of providing the highest amount of nutrients and flavor with the most reasonable amount of effort.
Bouley offered some particularly ingenious examples, including using onion puree to thicken a sauce rather than flour or cornstarch. It’s both healthier for you and delivers far more flavor—sheer brilliance. He also recommends drizzling a tomato with a little garlic oil and vanilla oil, and then taking a bite. I haven’t done it yet, but he claims it will be one of the best things we have ever eaten.
Over the course of his talk, Chef Bouley clearly communicated some sound advice for those of us pursuing a career in food. First: our careers are ever-evolving, so we should never feel boxed in. There is always room for growth and experimentation, both in the kitchen and beyond. Second: it is very important to learn as much as we can about the ingredients we intend to use, whether in a restaurant kitchen or our own home cooking. Even though I plan to pursue a career in desserts, not generally thought of as the “healthiest” part of a person’s diet, Chef Bouley has inspired me to learn as much as I can about my ingredients in order to deliver the best flavor and value to my guests.