A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chef Foster: As the year slips away, consider a food resolution — try something new once a week

Time is literally slipping away as I write my last column of 2017. So many things to write about either to wrap up a tumultuous year or to look ahead to the great unknown of 2018.

It’s tempting to lament the closing of fellow restaurants, or bemoan the rise of corporate food that seems to permeate our lives. I could wax poetic about the bucolic nature of our farmers markets, and in turn chastise all of you for not going to more of them.

Instead I will take a page from most end of the year columns and talk about your resolutions for the new year.

I won’t be telling you what most self-help people do. I won’t be forcing you into promises you can’t keep and resolutions that dissolve with the first hardship. Rather I will take a more gentle, small voice, nagging tone. The one you hear when you reach for a second helping of dessert in January or another couple of wings at the Super Bowl party in February.

First off, pledge to eat a new food at least once a week until the spring comes warm and wet. That should introduce you to at least a dozen new taste sensations and open up a new world of menu ideas and recipe searches.

Shake things up by buying and eating your first beet, or parsnip or even chicken liver.

Once a week, set your sights on a new horizon, one which will broaden your experience and in turn might change your fundamental diet. For all your smart alecks out there, this does not include the newest flavor of Cheetos, or a new wing sauce. Tasting new things involves taking an educated leap of faith that may land you in a different country and culture. Once there you might actually enjoy it, you might also find new ways to cook and better ways to prepare the foods you know from a different health perspective.

Case in point would be cauliflower cooked with tomato and caraway versus steamed and served with butter. I like cauliflower both ways, but its infinitely more exciting and healthy to include some spice to the dish.

While you’re tasting a new food item once a week, add the extra challenge of changing up your cooking methods. This may have some intended and unintended benefits for you moving into the new year.

Remember all those diets you tried, year after year. How are those working for you now?

Well I’m a big fan of making small changes in the preparation and portion size before I decide to starve myself.

Roasting root vegetables in olive oil. Poaching eggs and finishing with olive oil instead of butter. Braising versus roasting, steaming versus frying. You love dumplings? Steamed dumplings have great flavor but no crunch. The solution is to put the crunch on the inside, perhaps with one of those new items (Bamboo shoots, water chestnuts) you decided to try.

Want to cut back on sodium? Make a sauce for those dumplings based on low sodium soy or fish sauce and lots of herbs, toasted shallot and garlic, ginger and chilies, you won’t miss the salt with a flavor profile like that. Make your sauce tighter and thicker with reduction, not roux. Thicken a gravy with those mashed parsnips you just tried last week, it’s amazing how versatile some of these ingredients are.

Cutting out meat altogether? Mushrooms and legumes which may be foreign to you now will substitute nicely for both the umami and mouthfeel of most animal proteins.

You’ll never know these things until you change some habits and attitudes. Trying one new ingredient every week is a great way to enact change that might actually last past Valentine’s Day. It could have life-altering consequences for your health, a change in your attitude towards a childhood disaster, and introduce you to new sources of recipes and cuisines. Keep a journal of what you’ve tasted and how you felt it might fit into your lifestyle.

If a new piece of equipment is needed to try a new recipe, buy that equipment with other new ingredients in mind, perhaps a basket steamer could do more than the bok choy you just ate.

Keep the journal past the trial period, and if it’s working for you continue on into the spring and summer. With new found confidence you can shop the markets for new, local items you may have been hesitant to try last year. Every once in a while, look back over the first few weeks of your journal. You’re looking at growth, both in body and in spirit.

You’re looking at confidence being built, ingredient upon ingredient, and you’re doing it without trips to the gym and hundreds of dollars’ worth of equipment laying in the closet.

Isn’t that the best reason why we make resolutions; life changes?

Happy New Year!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene and a promoter of local and seasonal foods for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been the executive chef of his former restaurant, Harvest, and now his Chevy Chase eatery, The Sage Rabbit.

To read more from Chef John Foster, including his recipes, click here.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment