Playing With Your Food: Life’s too short to settle

During the decade I’ve lived in Wilson County, I have often found myself asking, “Where is the good food?”
May 14, 2014
Justin Ferguson

During the decade I’ve lived in Wilson County, I have often found myself asking, “Where is the good food?”  

Now, some of you may think I am an uptight snob for asking that question, or that I am the type of person who just doesn’t enjoy Southern food. Well my friend, that is simply not the case. 

I grew up in a single-parent home, low-to-middle income and only had the basic types of meals. Did I somehow just grow up with a spoiled palate?  No, I got out there and cultivated it.  

I attended culinary school and worked in the restaurant industry. I helped open restaurants, built menus, trained others, worked as a restaurant consultant. Over the years, I not only learned about food, I started to discover what people want when they dine out.  Honestly, in Wilson County we fall seriously short of having enough good food. We have to lower our expectations when we dine out locally.

So what is good food? Good food is top-quality; it is fresh; it is seasonal whenever possible. Good food is minimally processed and does not contain unhealthy additives.  

One highlight of the “good food” issue involves meat. Does the kind of feed an animal eats make a difference in meat quality? Is there really a difference in that cheap cut of filet you get from the supermarket and the expensive, hand-cut, grass-fed filet you bought from a local butcher? 

For starters, the price is certainly different, but remember what your parents said, “You get what you pay for.” Remember that in today’s society, many food plants are genetically modified. This changes the chemical composition and taste of the meat of the animal that ate these plants.

And there’s more to the story than just what the animal ate. If you are still unconvinced about the price-meat quality issue, try this little experiment. Buy two cuts of filet, one from the supermarket and one that is grass fed. Try and get the sizes as close as possible, but notice the difference. Supermarket cuts of meat usually contain transglutaminase, and that lets them shape it. 

What is transglutaminase? You may have heard of the more common nickname “meat glue.” This enzyme allows proteins to be glued together, and they rebind to form a solid protein. Not disturbing enough?  Well, in combination with red dye, you could get a product that has been sitting for a while bonded to something new. How do we know if the butcher uses transglutaminase? Ask him, and he will explain. 

That is only the tip of the iceberg in your meat experiment. There will also be a taste difference. One of your meat cuts will taste sweeter, and one will be bland without adding salt and pepper. Can you guess which one tastes better?

What was the purpose of today’s Food and Health section? Education. Over the next few months, I hope to raise awareness of food quality. As a chef, I am aware of many industry food preparation methods – and frankly, tricks – that might be hidden to the average consumer. Many establishments won’t tell you about them because they want to keep their food costs low and be able to offer more for less. Keep this in mind when you go out to eat from now on. 

A true chef – someone who wants to promote better quality food with a higher standard – will not hide anything from you. In fact, they will even brag a little. 

My beliefs are simple. Start with the best ingredients that are chemical free and end with a masterpiece.  

I hope you will stand up and let local restaurant owners know we want more than the bare minimums in Wilson County. We want the best, the best food, the best service, the best for our money.  

“Food is like a journey; interesting alone, but better with friends,” – Justin Ferguson. 

Justin Ferguson is a Nashville native who lives in Wilson County. A professionally trained chef specializing in farm-to-table cuisine and molecular gastronomy, he now provides restaurant consulting services and is operations manager for Vin Fine Wine & Spirits in Lebanon. Email him at wilsoncountycritic@gmail.com and read his What’s for Dinner? feature daily in The Democrat. For more than 1,500 other recipes, visit lebanondemocrat.com/recipecentral.

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