Cooking sous vide: good or bad for the industry?

The Staff Canteen
Sous vide cooking has certainly prompted debates among the culinary world. There are many pros and cons that can be argued, with many different responses. We spoke to a range of chefs from the industry for their view on using sous vide in the kitchen. duck-apicius-plateThe whole idea of sous vide sounds simple. Put your food in a bag and put the bag in the water. There’s no risk of burning, you don’t have to turn anything and everything will be cooked consistently, always to an exact temperature. The increasing popularity of what is being dubbed as the ‘new microwave’ is clearly justified. However, a method that seems so perfect also has its downfalls. Food safety can be an issue, the equipment can often be costly and the question has to be asked as to whether chefs are losing their skills because of the limited contact time they now have with their produce. Sous vide cooking has revolutionised the culinary world, but might it really be too good to be true? Introduced to the restaurant scene by Georges Pralus in 1974, sous vide cooking was found to be perfect for maintaining the appearance and texture of fois gras. Soon after, with the help of Bruno Goussalt’s research, sous vide was adopted by Air France as a way of offering gourmet quality meals to their first class passengers. Since then, it’s no secret that restaurants across the globe have taken advantage of what sous vide has to offer. The importance placed upon sous vide cooking can be seen in its role within the learning process for trainee chefs. Sous Vide Tools’ chef director, Chris Holland, said: “One of the biggest issues with sous vide is that people aren’t doing it properly and that’s obviously where my job role comes into fruition.”

>>> See a range of sous vide recipes from our members here

Here’s what you said on Facebook:  A junior cook needs to focus on mastering the basics before learning more advanced levels of cooking. – LaQuincy Gilmore Yeah it holds in flavour… but it is not 'chefing'! Old school will always be the true chef’s way. Touch, smell, and appearance! – Dom Suarez Esteves They are amazing. For cooking and for getting more days out of cooked food. – Neil Brooker They’re fantastic but you need to learn how to cook conventionally first to understand just how good a process this is and to be able to use it to its full potential. – David Dukes It's just another tool to be used properly along with other classic techniques. I think we were all scared of the microwave taking over when it first came out, this is no different. – Aaron Givon
Training domestic and corporate users of sous vide on a daily basis, Chris places a lot of importance in teaching good food safety standards to his clients: “It is widely used and therefore it should be taught properly. Our training covers and awful lot of ground, but all the way through we talk about the safety of sous vide and how it is best used in the industry.” However, the importance of sous vide in training chefs has also prompted arguments as to whether people are really learning how to cook. Arnaud Stevens, chef patron at Sixtyone said: “I think chefs need to understand how to learn to cook properly and not just whack it in a bag.” Teaching people how to cook well traditionally is clearly something that makes for a good chef. The process of sealing the sous vide cooked food after it comes out of the water baths means that chefs are still getting first-hand experience with the production of their dish and, essentially, they have the say on what qualifies to make up the finished dish. In essence, this means that, as much of an important part of the kitchen sous vide has become in many establishments, a strong knowledge of traditional cooking techniques is clearly still important and the two should work hand in hand to allow chefs to have the expertise to practice both methods to the best of their ability. Arnuad Stevens low resThe sealing process also helps to combat the argument that the sensory interaction with food is lost when sous vide is used. The whole concept of ‘boil in the bag’ comes with it a stigma of cheating, in that interaction with food is limited. Sous vide does nothing to try and shake off this stigma, forcing people to put a lid on whatever they are cooking and leave the fate of their food to the temperature controlled water inside. However, sous vide can’t cook everything and there are many foods that don’t work so well and do require a more traditional approach. In terms of a functioning restaurant offering a variety of dishes, this then means that sous vide isn’t actually taking over the kitchen, but works alongside traditional cooking methods to produce the best quality dishes possible. Graham Long, executive chef of The Chancery, said: “I’d find it difficult to recreate the dishes that I produce in the restaurant if all my sous vide equipment went down. We use it every day, not exclusively for everything, but for certain things.” As the food scene booms, the mixing of sous vide cooking with traditional cooking methods essentially means that chefs still have a great deal of interaction with their food, whilst still being able to run an efficient service and make consistent dishes. As well as training, food safety has prompted many arguments about sous vide’s place in the industry and whether it is safe to use. Nathan Myhrvold, co-author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking explained: “Cooked food should be cooled quickly. Bacteria thrive in the “danger zone” from 4-60 ?C. The longer that food remains in the danger zone while cooling, the more likely that the few bacteria remaining in it after cooking will multiply and dangerously repopulate the food. As a general guideline, food should not sit in the danger zone for more than four hours.”Nathan Myhrvold of Modernist Cuisine low res However, Environmental Health states 'there is a distinct lack of information about what happens in the 40°-55° region'. This lack of information presents serious problems for people using sous vide without having a good knowledge of the implications that may arise with bad food safety practice. This has become a particular worry with the growth of sous vide being used domestically in the home. Domestic uses of sous vide have rapidly grown in the past few years, with various companies offering downsized sous vide products for home users. Without the correct food safety procedures being implemented and checked by environmental health, home cooks may find that they are creating a large risk for themselves by using sous vide. Arnuad said: “I think if you don’t actually understand sous vide you can make people very poorly. You’re cooking at low temperatures and, if you’re dealing with proteins, in particular chicken, then you’re tempting fate.” The expense of sous vide can also prompt issues surrounding its efficiency, especially within the home. However Nathan disagrees, and sees the potential for sous vide in the home. “Getting started with cooking sous vide doesn’t require a big investment in new gear," Nathan said. “You can cook sous vide with any setup that heats food accurately at a low temperature.” the-cooking-lab-2013 low resThe agreement that sous vide is efficient within a restaurant, however, is fairly unanimous. “The last thing you want to do is overcook something like a duck breast which costs you £7," explained Graham. “Having sous vide allows us to minimise those mistakes or minimise the risk of something not being right for the customer.” Whatever you might say about sous vide, its popularity has certainly seen an increase in the past 30 years. Restaurants around the world now rely on it to have a successful service, and chefs such as Heston Blumenthal encourage its use. However, as its cons are discussed some people, like Eric Snaith, head chef at Titchwell Manor Hotel, claim that its popularity might be fading in the restaurant scene, he said: “I expect its popularity to reduce and I think it already has in a lot of professional kitchens.” Arnaud agrees with Eric, stating: “There’s nothing better than the romance of caramelising a beautiful guinea fowl in a pan. That’s what you wake up in the morning for."

>>> Read: 10 Minutes With: Arnaud Stevens

Chris, who has seen a large increase in the amount of people that come to Sous Vide Tools for training packages, disagrees. “I started working with Sous Vide Tools three years ago on a part time basis," said Chris. “Now I’ve gone full time with them because it is becoming so popular. It’s phenomenal really.” As the culinary world rapidly moves on, it will be up to the future young stars of the culinary industry to decide the fate of sous vide cooking. By Lewis Treleaven
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The Staff Canteen

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Editor 31st July 2015

Cooking sous vide: good or bad for the industry?