No more palm oil

On my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I was reminded of something that I already knew but sadly had forgotten. The use of palm oil should be curtailed.

I visited an elephant orphanage outside Kandy that had a very good and comprehensive information center and one of the things it talked about was how the cultivation of palms for oil is displacing elephants at an alarming rate, not just in Sri Lanka, but all around the world (but mostly in Malaysia).

As a chef, it’s part of my job to know about ingredients and constantly keep myself informed. Not a single chef do I know that doesn’t care about using the best available products in his or her cooking. But as a professional, it’s often difficult to keep up on what are thought to be socially-responsible ingredients: Standards vary, providers vary, social trends ebb and flow, and then there’s misleading regulation and labeling, etc, all contributing to confusion.

This much is crystal clear, though: The harvesting of palms for oil is bad for elephants.

There’s a simple change we can all make that will have far-reaching positive ramifications on the difficult task of species protection: Don’t buy or use any products listing palm oil.

Whenever it’s used as an ingredient, palm oil is specifically listed. SO STOP BUYING THESE PRODUCTS. It’s just that simple. Some people my bitch and moan: “But it’s so HARD to read labels!”. Bullshit. Everyone already reads labels anyway for other reasons, so just look for palm oil in the ingredient list and put that shit down. There are tons of alternatives to palm oil products.

Another problem that might be more sinister and invasive because it’s a place where palm oil can hide is the vague “vegetable oil”. What the fuck is vegetable oil? Which vegetable? in what ratio? Where’s it from? No one I know would buy a plain box labelled simply “Wine”, so why would you do the same with vegetable oil? Make sure to buy “olive oil” or “walnut oil” or “peanut oil” or best of all “canola oil”. (Quick link over here to WTF is canola oil…)

The pervasive use of palm oil isn’t something that can be regulated (god save me for suggesting that the marketplace may actually be the best solution here!); it’s a fight that has to be taken up in the grocery aisles.

Let’s save the elephants and stop creating a demand palm oil.

Rapeseed oil

As my buddy Stephen Colbert might say, “Canola oil: merely a fantastic cooking oil, or the BEST cooking oil?”

Canola oil is the refined oil of the rapeseed plant, and it’s immediately obvious why it was given a different product name rather than a name more closely associated with the plant!

Developed in Canada, canola is a great cooking oil and one that I’ve been using for years, much to the consternation of all the Italian-phile cooks and chefs out there.

Whenever I teach cooking classes, I always tell people to stop using olive oil when also using heat. Olive oil is expensive and it’s got many subtle aromas and flavors. Why would you ruin that lovely product by adding heat to it and burning it all away? Spend your money on an even better olive oil and make salad dressing with it. Please stop heating olive oil, it’s completely unnecessary! But you just try to get an Italian chef to give up his or her olive oil and you’ll have a raging fight on your hands.

Me, I like to cook with my heart AND my brain, so I use canola oil. Not vegetable oil, mind you. That stuff is garbage. It’s a random, unlabeled, unspecified mix of corn, soy, safflower, and whatever other oil was cheap to produce. All under the vague and misleading “vegetable oil” label. It’s like Forrest Gump’s chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.

With canola oil, you know you’re getting canola oil. If you buy the right kind, you’re also getting an oil that has one of the highest smoke points available, which allows for a lot of flexibility when cooking.

So once again, we can thank our Canadian brothers and sisters for their contribution to world cuisine. Add it to the list of maple syrup and Canadian bacon.

More cheddar cheese

Cheddar cheese

I was feeling like a man today and went all-in for the #5 cheese.

Cheddar cheese options

Cheddar cheese

Sainbury’s helpfully ranks their cheese strengths from one to five, where five is apparently something like “strongly mature and aged”. I wasn’t man enough for that, so I opted for the more reasonable #4.

It’s pretty good, but it’s no Beecher’s Flagship. I’m looking forward to exploring cheddar here in the UK to find something that rivals my hometown fave.

Kitchen tool…?


Who broke my spatula?

Seriously, though, this is one of the tools I found in corporate housing. All my years of cooking and I’ve never seen anything like it. Can’t imagine what it’s designed for.