Cooking Without the Alcohol

by Ben Miller

Food and wine/alcohol are a natural pairing. The flavors in a good glass of wine can really enhance a dish, and the usage of alcohol in cooking can play an important role in creating good marinades (such as this Food and Wine flank steak recipe) or cool restaurant effects.*

As this New York Times article notes, however, abstaining from or avoiding alcohol can be a difficult challenge for many chefs. For one, it’s a high pressure profession, and alcohol is usually readily available in a restaurant (or as we’ve seen repeatedly, the Top Chef stew room). Second, as mentioned above, knowing how to pair food and wine is an important part of a fine dining experience. In fact, its viewed as so crucial that the Culinary Institute of America actually has a required three-week course on wine tasting. As the article notes, this has created a difficult situation for at least one student who is a recovering alcoholic.

But while having strong knowledge of wine, alcohol, and food can be a very useful tool for a chef, there’s no reason it should be a deal breaker. Chefs that own a restaurant need a solid knowledge of wine to put together a good list and cellar, but I’d imagine they could hire the services of a sommelier for this purpose. The fanciest individuals already use one for suggesting food pairings anyway.

Now I will admit that avoiding alcohol could become complicated is if chefs won’t taste anything that had alcohol in the cooking. Especially for less experienced chefs who don’t already have a strong palate and feel for seasoning.

Is it possible to avoid alcohol and still be a top notch chef? I’d say so. But what do you think?

*Clearly the alcohol in saganaki serves other purposes as well, but it is pretty cool to order.

6 responses to “Cooking Without the Alcohol

  1. Clearly the alcohol in saganaki serves otter purposes as well

    Not sure what purpose an otter has for alcohol in a dish.

  2. I think its possible to cook without alcohol and still make amazing things. I think its harder to be in a restaurant in general and avoid the lifestyle. When coworkers go out every night after work, it’s not a place I would want to be as an alcoholic.

  3. What exactly is the point of all this?

  4. Be a chef without alcohol, probably. Be a top-notch chef without alcohol, I don’t know. Particularly for wines, the specific vintage of a wine may require very fine adjustments in the recipe to achieve the desired result. And that would be difficult without tasting. I suppose you could have a trusted taster, but how can you make sure they are tasting what you are imagining?

    Now, cooking without wine is quite easy, but again falls short of the top-notch. Alcohol, particularly wine, provides a certain note to the flavor of a dish as well as a texture for a sauce that can’t be be replicated in other ways.

  5. Pingback: Cooking Without the Alcohol « The Internet Food Association | Alcohol abuse,addiction and how to

  6. Well, Carla from Top Chef didn’t drink. I can’t remember if she didn’t use alcohol in her dishes, but I do remember the challenge where they were asked to prepare a cocktail and she served something non-alcoholic. She also doesn’t currently cook in a restaurant, so there’s that.

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