Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bloods vs. Crips

Photo by Lee Emmert

It's time to pick your side. It's new-age vs. traditional cooking, battling head to head! Hank Sawtelle loves the sous-vide method of cooking he picked up from his days working at wd-50 in Manhattan. Louisa Neumann is a classically-trained French chef. Whose side are you on?

Louisa and I go back to staging in France together through the La Varenne trainee program, so naturally I'm on her team. She can turn any animal or vegetable into a poem. Check her out at the Portland Pickle.

Sous-vide is a method of cooking food sealed in plastic bags at low temperatures in controlled water baths. The French developed this idea in the 70s, and apparently, the results can be sublime. There's something very artificial about it for me, and lots of drawbacks. Cooking sous-vide is expensive, it takes forever (sometimes days for one dish), and makes ideal conditions for breeding bacteria and botulism. In other words, you really need to know what you're doing.

You can read about the fierce battle between these Oregon chefs in the cover story of Mix, based in Portland.

This proves Anthony Bourdain's theory that chefs are either Bloods or Crips. (For more on this, read The Nasty Bits- it's gritty and wonderful.) I stand corrected, Bourdain was actually quoting Timothy Taylor from his novel, Stanley Park. Bloods are old-school and can devote their entire careers to mastering classic recipes with a strong emphasis on technique. A Crip, on the other hand, reinvents, deconstructs, fuses, and makes foams.

Crips keep the industry moving, set trends, inspire awe. Bloods send you home with a full stomach.

If the results are fantastic, I'll give the sous-vide method a shot some day, in small doses. It is all about how the food tastes in the end. But, like most things in life, the 'journey" to get there is also important. Louisa's quote in the article pretty much sums it up for me:

"...sous vide is cooking at arm’s length — the cook doesn’t seem necessary since there’s no browning, deglazing, sauce-building. It’s also much less of a sensory experience; no sizzling, bubbling, wafting aromas. “Cooking” without those things should go by another name! Hundreds of years of French culinary tradition is good enough for me."

What can I say? I'm a Blood.


  1. Good analogy, but I have to say that Louisa's quote is utterly wrong and misinformed. Sous vide cooking is not cooking at arms' length. It's exactly the same as cooking traditionally, it's like saying that making sausage is cooking at arms' length after all it's placing food in a animal pouch and cooking it. The cooking process is just that, a cooking process. You still need to do your mise en place, brown the meat, make sauces and reduce them and have the knowledge of what you need to put in the pouch to expect a good result, make your brunoise or Julienne etc... This quote is antiquated and reminds me of people saying that picasso didn't know how to paint. To get back to the analogy, I'm not a blood or a crip I'm the guy who tries to get them to make peace and tells them that the city is big enough for both of them.
    And by the way sous vide is a french technique and is part of of the french culinary tradition that Louisa is talking about she should talk to Joel Robuchon.

  2. there's a quote on that same article that is a more appropriate one by David Siegel, chef/owner at Belly who says:
    “Rather than pitting science against tradition, I prefer to marry the two,”

  3. The suspicion of sous vide on "tradition" grounds continues to baffle me, but I guess that's why I wear blue. This must be how Columbus (or his peers) felt when they brought tomatoes back from the new world and some Italians wouldn't eat them because they were nightshades. Now no one would question tomatoes as a "traditional" Italian ingredient.

    Sous vide is not the be-all and end-all, it's just another technique. It's all over the place and probably here to stay; if you're eating in high-end restaurants at all you're probably eating some foods prepared sous vide . . .

    C's up cuzz

  4. Thanks so much for your contributions, fellas! You are both so right- we really need all the new methods and ingredients to keep our plates and palates interested. I think of how much food has made the world smaller and brought cultures together, and kept me on my toes every day of the week.

    I'm glad this article shed some light on the sous vide world. I have known others who've incorporated it in their restaurants and got really into it in an almost techie geek way. (I mean that as a compliment, you both obviously know your stuff.) I guess my argument is I would be hesitant to only cook this way, but I guess I'd feel the same if all I did was saute.

    Then again, I'm a pastry girl: I knead, whip, punch, boil, caramelize and, quite often, burn. And while I will always try something new (as every person on this earth should strive to do), I am, at heart, a classically trained, shamelessly opinionated and at times, too snobby, Blood. Who needs to be put in her place now and then, I might add.

    Is there a sous vide pastry culture out there that I should know about? Maybe one of you guys can corner the market.

    Otherwise, thanks for representing, Crips! Keep fighting the good fight.

    And I really enjoyed the article, Hank (if that is your real name).

    Check out for more sous vide learnin' and 'speriencin'.

  5. I thought you might enjoy this video and maybe trying it out. I did and it's very cool. Michael Voltaggio makes brioche in the microwave. I'm french I like my brioche.

  6. Forgot the link:

  7. Thanks, Casquette! Unfortunately, I don't have a microwave in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen. But ain't nothin' wrong with a tatted chef. Oh, the bread looked good, too.

  8. Sounds like you are open-minded about it; some folks definitely aren't which is why I seem defensive sometimes.

    In the pastry department, I've made creme anglaise and ice cream base in the SV cooker with no worries about over-cooking or curdling (not that this is the hardest thing ever, but it is nice to be able to "set it and forget it" if you've got a million things going on). It's also good for making dulce de leche without worrying about exploding cans, and setting up a water bath under a metal bowl for tempering chocolate(especially for beginners, who don't know what the temps and textures "feel" like yet). I've also used it to control temps for making fresh cheeses and fermenting salt-rising bread.

    I think it's fair to say that we've only scratched the surface of how SV/temp control technology can be applied in the kitchen, which is part of what makes it exciting. There are people out there doing all kinds of crazy shit - cooking whole pigs in bags in hot tubs, cooking quail in mason jars, etc.

    In short I would not want to be the envelope right now, cuz it's getting pushed like a muthafucka.

    And yes, this is the real Hank!

  9. Wow! Nice post, Syd. You're generating a great discussion. I think Nicolas wants to fight me even though he says that he wants to make peace ;) I don't believe that I'm misinformed. It's obvious that I'm on the traditional side of things and always will be. It's my opinion that sous vide is cooking at arms length - the majority of the time the food cooks in a plastic bag. That's not to say I don't find it really exciting. Sure, sous vide is a French technique, just by looking at the words you can determine that fact. But to say it's traditional is a stretch. The idea of the article was to pit the two against each other. In real life I too think these techniques can probably coexist in the kitchen. Exciting times we live in.

  10. Hey, I love Bourdain as much as the next person. But he didn't invent the Bloods/Crips analogy. I did! It's in my novel Stanley Park, which Bourdain was quoting from in The Nasty Bits.

    Love your blog!

    Timothy Taylor

  11. Oops, my mistake, Timothy! What a great analogy- it has been quoted among chefs in just about every kitchen I've ever worked in. Will make the change and I look forward to reading your novel.

    Now we're all dying to know which one you are! I'm going to take a wild stab and say Crip because of your varied background in finance. Anyone else want to take a guess?

    Thanks for your comments and keep reading!