Gas, jungles, chefs, and the fate of the world. Oh my.

I wonder what’s to be done about the chef’s reliance on natural gas.  We are using a non-renewable resource that will run out some day, even if that day will not come in our lifetimes (maybe that’s why we are not so alarmed yet).  Natural gas is usually obtained these days using that nasty technique called fracking.  Fracking makes public drinking water flammable.

I also wonder if we can effectively offset the damage of using natural gas (and while we’re at it, gasoline and oil) with doing positive things for the planet, such as sourcing locally, buying only organic, having more veggies on our menus, or trying to preserve the rapidly vanishing rainforests in South America.

You probably saw this article in The Wall Street Journal about Alex Atala, the Brazilian chef of D.O.C. who is considered one of the best in the world right now. This crazy guy sources ingredients in the Amazon and has generated some influence to preserve the rainforests in South America.  Heretofore, the belief of big business has been that destruction of the rainforest pays money. But maybe that is shifting now with the growth of fine South American cuisine on the world stage using whacky ingredients from the jungle, like ants that taste like lemongrass.

I am truly interested to find out if chefs in South America will be able to stop or at least slow down the growing of meat for Mickie D’s, or the procurement of raw materials for “assemble-yourself furniture-kits” at Ikea. I’d love to hear what you know about this, or what your opinions are.

Inner Conflicts

This is the conundrum I am constantly faced with. How can I use less natural gas so I contribute less to fracking?  How can I utilize product that doesn’t use an overabundance of oil and gas getting to my kitchen?

The latter I can probably figure out. There are some fairly evolved and sophisticated systems in place already that make it easier to buy locally, such as Farmer’s Markets (my favorite places on earth) and many of the larger purveyors have options to order produce from within a 200 mile radius. I realize it’s not just that simple.  We need to look hard at numbers to ensure profitability, stability, and longevity of our businesses.  And in the complications of everyday restaurant business, including time restraints, needs for easy and timely food product deliveries, and the ever-increasing high costs of food, labor, and fixed expenses, there are many other factors at play that make it difficult. But at least it’s not impossible.

How to cook without a gas stove though, that is tough. I am unaware of any cooking technology for a serious chef in a serious kitchen that employs classic cooking techniques and strives for perfect food  that uses only renewable energy to heat.  And I’m talking about ovens and stoves here.  Nothing being used in Molecular Gastronomy and ultra modern kitchens.  I don’t know enough about that yet, and I do not wish to bring it up in this post, but suffice it to say that I still wish to employ a stove, an oven, and pots and pans as my primary equipment for cooking.  There is the possibility of harnessing wood, a “potentially renewable” energy source.  I call it that because if we switch to using wood, we’ll need to set-up some hard-core systems involving using the same land over and over again to produce trees, otherwise some money hungry, powerful, and connected entity(ies) will cut down every tree on the planet.  Wood will produce lots of smoke to deal with, the fire can be unwieldly, and it’ll be a pain in the butt to keep pumping a stove with wood all night long.  Perhaps we could create super efficient wood burning stoves, such as the ones you can get for your home now, but still, the above problems and inconveniences will be difficult to figure out.

For now, while our internal alarm systems lay dormant and only faintly signal danger, doom, the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine), and the inability to eat and/or cook food the way we are accustomed, it’s about using as little natural gas as possible while cooking. The steps involved in this adaptation are little known by the masses, they are not discussed in open forums or think tanks (that I know of), and they are not seriously explored by any of the major chefs of the world.  It is a heretofore untapped technology.

I have had chefs at school who insist that every oven is turned on immediately upon entering class and that these ovens must stay on until class is finished 7 to 8 hours later. Imagine if every chef in all the 40 some-odd kitchens they have at school insisted that all ovens, of which there are anywhere from 6 to 12 in each kitchen, were turned on for an entire class 8 hours a day every day.  Also, each kitchen has two, 8 hour classes each day. That seems somewhat wasteful, no?  Wow!  So what am I going to do to change my cooking ways when I’m out of school? How is the world going to cook when all nonrenewable resources are depleted or nearly depleted?

Chef Atala Feels like the natives of the Amazon are in his blood. He has tribal tattoos on his body. He travels far and wide, and at great risk to obtain old ingredients well-known to the natives, yet uncommon to high society. Perhaps Atala will eventually appeal to those with deep souls and deep pockets, if he hasn’t already, an some big moves will be made to slow rainforest devastation.

Yet, I would bet without ever visiting that Atala uses gas fired stoves in his kitchen. I know they do some fracking down there in Brazil. And I imagine they use much gas and oil in the airplanes to get him to and from the jungle which he frequents.  So what is the trade-off here? Decreasing destruction in one area increases it in another.

Now we can start an argument here, taking sides on whether it is more destructive to allow the rain forest to die away or more destructive to use tons of gas and oil, and it will never resolve itself. In fact, I’m sorry I even brought it up. Now I’m all bummed out.  Haha!  Well at least I know I’ll be working on the problem, and I know many others who are.  Atala is doing great things that should not be discredited.  Cheers to him.  Now let’s figure this out!


One comment

  1. Maybe the answer isn’t which one, but rather how much? It is an interesting dilemma, that doesn’t seem to have an easy solution. Making more energy efficient gas stoves might be a temporary answer to our problems, as I am definitely not an advocate of cutting forests down in the name of the kitchen (especially if that trend takes over). So thinking in the same train of thought as cars, make less “gas guzzling” stoves (while being conscious of our use of them- time left burning), until we come up with a more eco-friendly solution.

    On which note I found this link which is a industrial oven that Epcon is testing that looks like it runs from the fuel of compost. Still in testing, but a step in the right direction for ovens at least (stoves are still an issue of course).

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