THE GOCHISO GOURMET: A decade of wala’au

Wala’au is the Hawaiian term for speaking, as in having a simple conversation, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years with you in Nichi Bei Land, originally through the Nichi Bei Times and recently through the Nichi Bei Weekly. I make no pretense of it, my column will never win a Pulitzer Prize nor will it make Oprah’s column of the month. Heck, it probably isn’t even referenced by other blog sites, but it reads the way I would be speaking to you over a plate of salumi, cheese and wine or poké and beer under a shaded canopy with balmy breezes blowing.

Wala’au. But as I first penned this column back in January of 2003, the coming of the Year of the Snake marks a decade of The Gochiso Gourmet. I present a reflection of the time that has passed in those 10 years.

Food in the Past Decade
Somewhere in the early 2000s, America seemed to lose its taste for carbohydrates. In fact, it became downright carbphobic with the popularity of the Atkins, South Beach and Zone diets. Why? I have no idea. As I’ve mentioned previously, calories and body weight follows simple mathematics. Burn more than you consume and you’ll lose weight, even if all of those calories come from butter or lard. On the flipside, consume more than you burn and you’ll gain weight, even if all of those calories come from carrot sticks and granola. One plus one does equal two in the world of calories and body weight. And from a personal standpoint, there’s no way I can give up freshly baked bread, pasta, sushi or pomme frites, so I’m not even tryin’!

Somewhere in the early 2000s, El Bulli in Spain run by the Adria brothers was named the top restaurant in the world. Of course, they also closed the top spot again in 2009. However, they recently shuttered their doors this year as the Adrias felt they had accomplished all that they had set out to do with El Bulli. Along with El Bulli (five times), the only other restaurants to gain the top spot in the 2000s were The French Laundry (twice) in Napa, Calif., The Fat Duck (once) in England and Noma (three times) in Denmark.

I believe that sometime in the 2000s, chefs found foam. Basically flavored air, foams consisted of flavor infused fat put through a high-pressure nozzle that created a subtle flavored foam. On entrees, they usually were flavored with fresh herbs or savory fats like bacon drippings or foie gras or on desserts and libations they were flavored with fruit and sweets.

About this same time, chefs also started using maltodextrin in savory applications. Basically, maltodextrin is a flavorless powdered starch that absorbs more than its own weight in liquid, especially fats. So you could create olive oil powder, foie gras flavored powder or even butter powder to garnish any dish. It’s a little like what El Bulli had been doing for several years — molecular gastronomy.

And we also saw sous vide as a popular method of cooking protein; basically sous vide means “under vacuum” in French, and the process is pretty basic. Stick a protein of your choice with or without herbs and oils in a cooking bag. Remove any air from the bag, and then seal the bag. Place the bag in a water bath with a controlled temperature, and let it very slowly cook over several hours. Before serving, remove the protein and flash pan fry on one side to crisp or brown. Originally, these water baths (like you would find in an organic chemistry lab) were only available to restaurants unless you were willing to spend several thousand dollars and had enough counter space in your kitchen to accommodate the contraption. Now you can actually order your own for a couple hundred dollars and they only take the space of a large toaster oven.

Wine in the Past Decade
Domestic wine has primarily been in the same cycle for 10 years now. Specifically, it’s mostly about big, concentrated, fully extracted, ripe wines. The type of wines that get those 95+ Robert Parker scores.

And who can blame winemakers, especially up and coming winemakers who are leveraged up to the eyebrows with outstanding loans or answer to investors wanting a quick return on their initial capital expenses. Make one 95+ Robert Parker wine and oenophiles will be beating a path to your front door and sending your sales through the roof. I mean, certain grapes are meant to make “big” wines like America’s own — Zinfandel. And I do occasionally enjoy a full throttle Cabernet Sauvignon. But Grenache, Syrah and Merlot weren’t really meant to be wines on steroids. And Pinot Noir definitely is meant for finesse. But it’s common to see these wines with 15 to 16 percent alcohol by volume (abv). On top of this, younger European vintners are also following this trend making fully ripe wines that were never produced a generation ago for the same reason; the big RP score.

But there is a new light on the horizon. There also is a group of vintners making wine according to inherent characteristics in each grape variety. Pinot Noirs with finesse. Syrah with terroir. Chardonnay that isn’t overly oaked. Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wine Co., Ted Lemon of Littorai, the Varner brothers of Varner and Neely. Making wines not for huge wine scores, but making them the way they feel those wines should be made. Of course, the list is longer than just these three vintners, but they are out there. You just have to seek them out for yourself as they won’t get any of the wine press as the big boys.

And there also is a change at Wine Advocate. Parker has passed the reigns of his publication to Antonio Gallioni, who doesn’t seem to favor the huge, fully extracted wines as his boss, or at least to a lesser degree. This means wine making may slowly be swinging back to the old days.

And if you haven’t run into Stelvin closures, get used to it. They weren’t as pervasive on the market 10 years ago, but now most white wines and a good deal of red wines meant to consume young is sealed with Stelvin caps. What’s a Stelvin cap? For lack of a more sophisticated explanation, it’s a screw cap. Almost like the screw caps on Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird. Why seal with a screw cap? Well, it cuts down on the incidence of “corked” wines to virtually nil, unless your winery already is tainted with trichloroanisole or TCA. I’ve noticed that many Australian wines, including high-end bottles like Mollydooker’s Velvet Glove, employ Stelvin closures. I guess I’ll list my Laguiole corkscrews on Craigslist sometime in the future, as they may be rendered obsolete.

Nutrition in the Past Decade
Of course, every couple of years, people need to find a new fad diet. The carb haters are still out there, though it’s not as mainstream as it was a decade ago. There seems to be more dietary supplements on the market that supposedly help you burn extra fat and calories.

Hydroxycut used to be the darling, until they noticed that it might cause liver failure … though it seems to be back again with a new formulation.

Ten years ago, human chorionic gonadotropin was simply the hormone detected in home pregnancy tests. Now it’s supposed to help you shed unwanted fat while maintaining lean tissue on low calorie diets. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want my doctor to inform me that my red count is OK, my cholesterol is up and that I’ll be due in another 24 weeks. And something tells me that just being on a low calorie helps shed fat.

I’ll just stick with the time-tested method of consuming less than I burn to loosen my waistline. And while I’m at it, I’ll simply try to get my proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals from loads of veggies and fruits supplemented with whole grains and lean animal and vegetable proteins. It’s not the sexiest diet, and definitely not trendy, but it’s time tested and proven. Yes, I’ll still indulge on special occasions, especially since calories and cholesterol don’t count on your birthday, holidays and vacations, but for the most part, I’ll stick to a sensible diet for the better part of the year.

The Next Decade
What does the next decade hold? Well if I knew that answer, I would have already selected the six winning numbers to the next Powerball. I hope that someday in the near future direct shipping of wine will be a reality in all 50 states. I hope that farm to table and the locavore movement is embraced in every community. I hope that having the family collect around the dinner table to bond becomes something more of the future than something that simply existed in the past. I hope that major food conglomerations produce foods with real taste that are nutritious and not just produced for extended shelf lives, and only “flavored” chemicals, salt and fat. And though it’s been a pretty long ride thus far, I hope that the Nichi Bei Weekly and the Nichi Bei Foundation will continue well through the next decade. As you’re probably well aware of by now, it’s not easy continuing any type of print media. Gourmet magazine has folded. Hawai’i lost one of its two daily newspapers. Newsweek is eliminating the printed format. And the Nichi Bei Weekly faces the same challenges. So subscribe. Get all of your friends and family to subscribe. Donate to the Nichi Bei Foundation. So maybe we can wala’au just a little bit longer.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai’i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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