Henri Charpentier was once the most famous chef in America. He was born in France and became an orphan at an early age. He grew up in poverty, became an apprentice in a restaurant, and literally cooked his way into becoming one of the most famous chefs in France. Charpentier moved to the United States and started a small restaurant in a rural area, which was patronized by some of the most wealthy, famous, and powerful Americans of the day, who would travel for many hours just to enjoy the wonderful food he cooked.
He published the Henri Charpentier Cookbook in 1945. In the book, Charpentier shared his most important cooking secret. The secret was very simple. He advised his readers to buy the very best butter they could afford.
He did use a great deal of high-quality butter in his cooking and in his cookbook.
When I first read this simple advice, I laughed at it. It seemed like a joke. Everybody knew that butter was butter, and all butter was the same. I was very mistaken, but I knew no better. Americans had been told for many years that our modern American food was all very good, and all pretty much the same. Trying to find and buy an especially good type of butter seemed both foolish and extravagant.
I have learned a lot over many years of cooking. One of the most important things I have learned is that some varieties of a particular food are of a much better quality than others. Using the best butter I can find in my cooking has made an enormous difference, both in taste and in nutrition. And this distinction applies not only to butter, but to every kind of food.
Our ancestors were obsessed with quality and were always trying to find the best quality food they could afford, and spent a lot of time and effort in doing so.
Some years ago, I used small amounts of a relatively expensive olive oil to marinate meats and achieved excellent results. Over the years, I started using less expensive olive oils, which were also organic and traditionally made.
Yesterday, I found myself thinking about the wonderful olive oil I used to use and bought some. I used a little bit as part of a marinade for some grassfed lamb. The meat came out so tender, with an intensity of flavor that was far beyond what I expected. The good oil had somehow brought out and intensified all the flavors in the dish, making it much better than it had been when I used the less expensive oil.
I now realize that Henri Charpentier was right. The quality of the ingredients is the most important part of cooking a great meal. The oil I used was certainly not the most expensive olive oil out there, but it was so much better than the others I had used. It changed the quality of the dish from good to excellent, and was worth the extra expense and effort.
Price is not the only indicator of quality. Something is not necessarily better just because it costs more. You will only know the quality of the food when you taste it and digest it.
I am convinced that there is a huge difference in quality in the foods that we can get, and it matters very much. Our ancestors knew that, and as with so many other things about food, they were right.
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