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Nov 22, 2008 03:03 PM

How to avoid sous vide?

We had dinner at Blue Hill At Stone Barns the other night. What an amazing place, and yet they keep the dining room so dim that we have to have flashlights to see our food! And the flashlights are so dim they are no help reading the menu. But, then, you have no choices so why do they give you a menu anyway?

We ate there before, just over a year ago, and I liked it - except for the darkness, I wrote the restaurant about that, but received no response - but, I just realized the other night that almost everything is "cooked" sous vide.

I don't like sous vide. Everything feels the same in your mouth. It is too perfect looking and uniform feeling. I am not confident with the health safety issues. I think it is icky. And I strongly believe that if a restaurant is going to serve you sous vide food you should be told (warned) in advance.

The first time that I was aware of having sous vide was at The French Laundry. We were so looking forward to the lamb dish! And it arrived, perfect, uniform, blah. We were shocked. I did not realize that it was sous vide until later. I called the restaurant a few weeks after we dined there and they confirmed it was a sous vide preperation.

When you go to a restaurant they tell you if your meat or seafood is grilled or steamed or baked - sometimes they even give you a choice - but sous vide is kept secret until you ask "how did you cook this?"

Life is messy. So should be food. I don't like sous vide. I don't want to eat it. Is it taking over? Is there anyway - other than letters that will be ignored - of letting the restaurants know that not everyone is taken in by this emperor's new clothes of cooking?

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  1. There's a step missing here:

    1. you don't like sous vide because it tastes blah (among other reasons).
    2. Blue Hill (apparently) cooks most of their dishes sous vide.
    3. you liked the food at Blue Hill.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Amadaun

      I was not clear. I liked the experience. The farm at BH@SB is remarkable, beautiful, inspiring. We spent a long afternoon touring and studying the farm, admiring the gardens, and watching the pigs wallow. I bought some delicious and beautiful produce at the little "farmer's market". The buildings are stunning and the restorations done to them are well-done. Afterward, we had dinner. So, yes, it really is a remarkable experience.

      The sous vide portions of the food are served with sauces and vegetables, so there are good flavours and bites around the unfortunate textures. When I experienced that texture and mouth-feel before I thought it was just my reaction to a certain cut or preparation. And politely removed the meat to my companion's plate. I did not realize that it was the way all the protein was supposed to be like.

      Also, the wine was good and the bread was really good, so my objection is to just the sous vide portion of the meal and experience at BH-etc.

      That, and the dim lighting.

    2. It sounds to me like they didn't reheat long enough. When restaurants don't - and it happens often - that's the sort of feeling you get. Like something cut nicely and prepared as you would like it, and still tender, but not fresh out of the oven. If it was firmly just kinda warm, it's not right.

      They don't inform you because it's really frowned upon by the board of health (and entirely against health code in most municipalities), and rightly so, for the reasons you already know. The issue I have with it (and I do it at home for my friends and family rather than at work for my guests,) is that every dittohead chef in the country now feels the need to cook this way.

      1 Reply
      1. re: almansa

        Interesting, thanks.
        Yes, the sv chicken was served after a sv walleye. It looked the same, like a squared off marshmallow. It needed some crunch, crisp, carmelization, chickenizing! Just not right. Thanks.

      2. Yes, you don't go to restaurants that serve food cooked sous vide.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ccbweb

          Right, how do you do that?
          The restaurants don't tell you in advance. They don't advertise it. It is not on the menu.
          I was surprised to find that a place like BH@SB would use that technique. The farm, the gardens, the natural process of how the food is grown, did not lead me to suspect that they would then process the harvest in plastic bags.
          If restaurants don't tell you, how do you avoid it?

            1. re: paulj

              or almost any kind of 'ethnic' food.

            2. re: cayuga

              Call and ask. Or don't go to restaurants. I mean, the way you've set this one up is impossible, literally. If you can't know in advance and/or you believe they won't tell you that they use the technique then there's no way you could possibly choose a restaurant that meets your preferences. Thus, don't go. Or, call and ask and if you believe them or believe that you will have sufficient choices of food prepared the way you'd prefer, then go as usual.

          1. Yes, sous vide is a desperate alternative for mediocre chefs looking to hawk a gimmick, rather than good food. But if you call a restaurant they're rather obligated to give you a straight answer. And if I don't like a restaurant I just kiss it off.

            5 Replies
            1. re: mpalmer6c

              I think I will kiss off the restaurant BH@SB. But not their farm and gardens!

              The servers acted so uncomfortable and suspicious when I asked how the food was prepared. I got the impression that they thought I was out to get them - but I just wanted to know how a piece of chicken could look and taste the way they served it.

              Yes, in the future I will ask when I make reservations.

              My fear now is that the sloppy, messy, not so precise, chefs in the rural-ish area I live in will take up the technique and there will be deadly and icky consequences.

              1. re: mpalmer6c

                Except, of course, if the restaurant isn't advertising that they use it, then they're not possibly hawking a gimmick.

                1. re: mpalmer6c

                  Are you mad 'mediocre chefs' ? lets be honest here low temp cookery has been around for years and has been done by the best restaurants and chefs globally for decades. The term sous vide is incorrect as sous vide means under pressure and to cook at low temp or in a bag you do not need to cook sous vide.

                  I do agree that many mediocre chefs use sous vide as a new toy, something they have read about in books, seen of TV and do not have a real understanding of the ingredient and the ideal core temp required.

                  There's nothing wrong with sous-vide, low temp cooking or any sort of cooking if done right

                  1. re: chefhart

                    You're resurrecting an old thread, but I have to point out that your french translation is incorrect. Sous vide does not mean under pressure. In fact, its the opposite. Under vacuum - no pressure. Pressure is pression.

                    1. re: Bkeats

                      So technically the name refers to the use of the vacuum sealer, not the cooking method itself. The vacuum ensures a good thermal contact between the hot water and the food. It may also help infuse the meat with the flavorings.

                2. Sous vide is a method. It can be done poorly or well. But saying that you don't like sous vide is like saying that you don't like braising. It's a silly statement.

                  If you're concerned about food safety, educate yourself. Not on the local health department's regulations, but on microbiology. The information is readily available. FWIW, you probably don't want to eat a rare burger that's been cooked sous vide. A rack of lamb, on the other hand, is a whole 'nother matter.

                  It's true that lots of bad food has been prepared sous vide. In fact, its primary application is still institutional. Most stuff you got served on airplanes (when airlines still served food) was prepared sous vide.

                  There's nothing "emperor's new clothes" about it. It's a well-established cooking method. Avoid places that do it poorly, just as you'd avoid places that can't pan-roast or bake things properly. But don't avoid the method. Done well, it's part of a good chef's repertoire.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    "saying that you don't like sous vide is like saying that you don't like braising. It's a silly statement."

                    I agree completely AB. As usual your post was spot on

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      At least when you have a braised dish they tell you that it is so.

                      Sous vide is kind of a secret. They tell you if you ask.

                      I don't like food preparation to be a secret.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        some people don't like boiled meat. that's not silly, just a preference. sous vide is the same. it shouldn't be hard for most people to understand this.

                        of course you can combine sous vide with other techniques, but i don't think that was the point of the original post.

                        you can always ask how something is prepared. that's a typical question. at a good restaurant the wait staff should be able to answer the question.

                      2. re: alanbarnes

                        I understand that it is a method. I am very well-educated, in general and in regards to sous vide.

                        Sous vide and braising cannot be compared - and I would not make snide remarks towards someone who didn't like braising, we are all entitled to our own tastes and preferences, and if someone said that they do not like braising it is not silly it is a personal expression.

                        I explained some of my objections to sous vide. And my reasons are not silly. They are personal.

                        I have had rack of lamb done sous vide at The French Laundry and found it repulsive.

                        If I did not like braised food and I was in a restaurant that offered a braised dish vs. a grilled dish, I could avoid the braised dish. You cannot do that with sous vide. It's hush hush.

                        I'm not telling you or others that they should avoid food prepared that way. But I find it to be a great boon to restaurants and a loss to this particular consumer. I'd prefer to avoid it.

                        1. re: cayuga

                          HELLO, MY NAME IS JFOOD AND I DO NOT LIKE SOUS VIDE. There he feels better as well, so silly him, oy.

                          jfood agrees with you on sous vide and avoids whenever possible. The texture reminds jfood of the liver his mother made growing up, blech.

                          If people like that good for them, jfood will do a snagglepuss as well. Give him a good solid braise anytime, now that's cooking.

                          And again, jfood turned down another invite to BH on Friday night. He knows he will probably not enjoy as much as others and the drive and cost does not make him want to venture that faqr for that much.

                          1. re: cayuga

                            If you're well educated with regard to sous vide, then you probably know that food can be prepared at any temperature short of boiling for any length of time, and other cooking methods (roasting, sauteeing, deep-frying) can be used in conjunction with sous vide. Thus, there is a huge range of flavors and textures that can be produced by sous vide cooking. Because the range is so great, it is improbable that you actually dislike all of those dishes.

                            Based on comments in your follow-up posts, it appears that you dislike the stuff that has been cooked with a long, low-temp bath and nothing else. I'm not a big fan of that application, myself. Done well it tends to be uninspiring; done poorly (as it all too often is), the flavor and texture of the food are dreadful.

                            But that doesn't that sous vide can't produce some delicious results. I'd be willing to bet that you've unknowingly eaten plenty of food in which sous vide cooking has played some role. You may have even enjoyed some of it.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              don't hate the technique, hate the hack who prepares it badly. like all techniques good chefs are either masterfull or not. french laundry, blue hill, give it a name. poor execution is just that.