Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Foods that keep you cool

Foods that Keep you Cool By: Chef Cristian Feher
With Florida's 100 degree weather, faulty air conditioning, and the growing threat of global warming, it doesn't look like it's getting cooler any time soon. So I thought this would be an appropriate article. Before I give you a list of the foods that will keep your body cool this summer, I have prepared a short and nerdy presentation of how your body's cooling system works. Think of your body as a car engine, but instead of burning gas, it burns food. When it runs it gets hot and when it's hot outside it gets even hotter. And just like your car's engine, it's liquid cooled - it uses fluid to trap the heat and throw it out. But please... not in the pool.

Your body builds up a lot of heat when it has to digest heavy fuel. I'm sure you remember the last time you had a greasy burger and fries on a hot day. You probably felt sluggish, short of breath and very uncomfortable - you overheated your engine. The simplest thing you could have done would have been to eat a leaner, cooler, easier to digest fuel - like a salad or fruit. Salads and fruit are a great hot weather food in that they take very little effort for your body to digest. Less effort makes less heat. And because a salad is cool to begin with, it doesn't raise your body's temperature as much as a hot meal will.

The first way that your body gets rid of heat is through sweating. The blood absorbs the extra heat in your system and channels it out through the sweat ducts. As the sweat evaporates off your skin, the heat goes with it. So you actually want to eat foods that will make you sweat. Notice that cultures which live in hot climates usually cook with a lot of spicy foods. They know that sweating keeps you cool and if you've ever eaten a spicy goat curry on the beaches of Trinidad and Tobago, or Jerk Chicken in Jamaica, you know what I mean. "Get me a towel!". Aside from their great taste, hot peppers are your best sweat inducing foods and you should acquire a taste for them if you want to keep cool in hot weather. Hot peppers contain a substance called capsicum which cause your body sweat. These include all types of hot peppers, and anything with cayenne. If you can't handle spicy foods, don't worry. I have other suggestions below.

The second method your body uses to get rid of heat is through urination. That's why we are able to write our names in the snow so legibly. A diuretic is a substance which makes your body get rid of fluids through urination. If you don't like to sweat, I suggest eating diuretic foods, which mostly come in the forms of liquids. Apple cider vinegar, caffeine and cranberry juice are all diuretics, and they will help keep you cool. Coconut water is also a diuretic, which would be tragically ironic if you were ever stranded on a deserted island and needed coconut water to survive! The only issue with diuretics is that you risk becoming dehydrated. So make sure to keep drinking.

The speed and thickness of your blood is also a factor. Thinner blood will circulate more easily through the body with less effort. This will have a cooling effect. Foods that are natural blood thinners are cayenne pepper, ginger, cinnamon and vinegars.

By following these guidelines you should be able to keep cooler this summer, and if you're lucky, maybe even lose a little weight!

Here is a recipe for the ultimate cool down meal:

Cucumber, Hearts of Palm, Tomato, and Avocado Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette and a tall glass of Cranberry Coconut Juice

Salad Ingredients:
- 1 Avocado
- 1 Heart of Palm
- 1 hand full of Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 Field Cucumber
- (optional) 5 cold cooked Tiger Shrimp
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Cayenne Hot Sauce
- Sea Salt and Pepper

Put avocado slices, sliced heart of palm, cherry tomato and cucumber slices into a bowl. Put 1/3 cup of olive oil, and a small splash of apple cider vinegar (to taste) over the salad. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

For the drink, mix 1 part coconut water and 2 parts cranberry juice. Add to a glass with crushed ice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

...I Ate What?

... I ate what?
By: Chef Cristian Feher

After watching The Land Before Time for the hundreth time, my seven year old asked me today, "Do you cook Dinosaur meat for your customers?" And while I normally would have smiled and pinched her cheeks, this question made me think for a minute. And surprisingly, the answer was "Yes!". Many of our foods have very interesting origins, and some are derived from sources you would never expect. This thought entertained me for the rest of the day and I began to do a little research - sort of tracking down a long lost family tree - on the quirky foods that we eat. Some of you may find this disturbing, but I hope that most of you will find this as interesting as I did.

Dinosaurs - A long time ago, the Earth was filled with dinosaurs. They roamed what are now our oceans, swam what are now our deserts and flew in our skies. Then a large explosion wiped them out. Fast forward a few years later (a few million to be exact). The planet's continents shifted and buried much of the dinosaur leftovers in underground pockets where they fermented for a long time and turned into a thick, flammable, black viscous carbon liquid. Then a Texan shot a hole into the ground, and "Yeehaw!" petroleum was discovered. It was taken to a factory where it was turned into a thousand different things. And many of these you actually eat. Take propylene glycol. It's a clear, colorless liquid with a semi-sweet taste. We use it as an agent to keep foods moist (like in dog food, some frozen fries, and fast food burger buns) it's also used as the main liquid which holds artificial food flavors and dyes. So any food made with artificial flavor or smell, has propylene glycol in it. It's also used as antifreeze for your car, in pharmaceuticals, and interestingly enough, it's used to stop cattle from losing weight (I will write another article on this specific topic) From petroleum we also get vitamin capsules, food preservatives, and glycerin (used in shampoo, drugs, toothpaste, and the production of citric acid in juices). And that's the short answer of how we eat dinosaurs on a daily basis.

Bacteria Poop - Most people would be appalled at the though of eating bacteria poop. You probably think of horrible things happening, like food poisoning and digestive problems. But the truth is that you eat quite a bit of bacteria poop and it's actually harmless. Take xantham gum for example. This substance is the bi-product (poop) of bacteria that like to eat corn. In goes the corn, out comes a thick, slimy substance which is then dried, turned into powder and then added to salad dressings, sauces, sodas, ice cream and many more foods. It's used to thicken foods, or keep a mixture of food uniform. I actually use this to thicken sauces for customers that demand a low carb, or gluten-free menu. It works much like corn starch, but without the calories.

Bee Saliva - You probably guessed this one. Yes it's honey. And here is why you might find it less appealing. The worker bee flies out, sucks the nectar out of flowers and flies back to the hive. He then regurgitates a mixture of flower nectar, digestive juices and saliva out into the honey combs. But it's not over yet, because the worker bee will swallow and regurgitate the honey a few more times just to make sure it's partially digested - or, in bee-terms "it's just right!".

Pig Skin and Cow Hooves - You probably guessed that I'm talking about hot dogs. But you you didn't think I'd make it that easy, did you? I'm actually talking about gelatin. Gelatin is made from the collagen that is boiled out of the animal's bones, skin and connective tissues. It's then refined, the meaty flavor is taken out, and it's turned into a crystalline powder. We then take some dinosaur-based flavoring and food colors, and make it into our favorite jiggly treat - Jello!

Ground Up Bugs - Although the average person eats a few pounds of insects every year, through produce, processed cereals and even while you sleep, I am referring to something in particular - Carmine based food coloring. Carmine or Natural Red #4 is actually made from crushed cochineal beetles. This is found in juices, ice cream, and candy. If it's red, pink or purple, chances are that it has crushed up bugs in it!

Hopefully I haven't spoiled your appetite. I find that it's always better to know, and just remember what grandma used to tell you, "What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger." Or in the case of my grandfather, "It's all protein in the end!" Thanks grandpa.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Opposing Flavors: A Chef's Tool for Taste

Opposing Flavors: A chef's tool for taste.
By: Chef Cristian Feher

There is a big difference between a good meal and fantastic meal. Yes, one most likely has a better visual presentation, but most people would agree that the most important factor is taste. A question I get very often from my customers is, “how do you get it to taste like that?”. Fortunately I am not one of those chefs that keeps a tool box full of secrets. And as can be seen from my first grade report card, I like to share with others.

I could use words like “balance”, “symmetry” and “contrast”. But I like the word “dichotomy” best. The word dichotomy is defined as: a separation into two divisions that contradict each other. Or more simply put; two things that are opposites to each other.
Without getting too philosophical here, life is made up of opposites. The sun and the moon. Black and white. Good and evil. Hot and cold. Man and woman. Our universe is made up of opposites and It wouldn't exist without them. Well, neither would good food!

One of the tools that I use in preparing meals that pay the bills, is the concept of a dichotomy – both from a visual standpoint, and a taste standpoint. If you've ever taken an art class, you know that the picture you're painting looks best when it balances. There has to be empty space to compliment the full space. You have to dampen bright colors with dark colors, and so it is with the arrangement of food on a plate. When you're preparing a dish, you're essentially painting a 3 dimensional picture. But the factor that keeps customers coming back is always the taste, and good taste is all about a properly balancing and opposing your flavors.

Picture a meal that is just salty. No other taste, just salt. How about a food that is just nothing but sweet? Not very enjoyable in my opinion. There is no dichotomy there. What a good chef will do is balance two flavors just right. When I make desserts I always balance the sugar with a bit of salt. You can't really tell the salt is there, but you just know that it's very satisfying to your taste buds! You'd be pleasantly surprised by how many recipes would be improved by opposing two flavors instead of focusing on one. Next time you make tomato sauce, for example, add half as much sugar as you add salt and you might notice a great improvement. Whether you combine salty with sweet, or sweet with sour, or spicy with sweetness, it really is an improvement over using just one flavor. So take your six main flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy and umami (spicy is technically a sensation and not a flavor, but we'll just add it in there) and begin to experiment with pairings to take your cooking to a deeper level. The fast food restaurants have done it for years to keep you coming back. How much sugar do you think it takes to balance an umami (the flavor of MSG which is similar to salty) meat patty?

The concept does not stop with flavors. The dichotomy also lends itself to temperature and to texture. A perfect example of these two would be a crispy, hot slice of apple pie topped with a cold, soft and smooth scoop of french vanilla iced cream. The crispy texture of the apple pie is opposed by the soft, velvety texture of the iced cream, and the temperatures of hot and cold are also opposed. By the way, most iced cream you buy at the store contains a certain amount of salt to counter the sugar.

I hope that this will help you to understand what makes your favorite foods so enjoyable, and I would be happy to know that this has made your cooking just a little bit better! I'm always like to receive emails from you. You can always email me at