This week you are in for a real treat! Make that two! My dear friend, the incredibly talented cookbook author and nutritionist Robyn Webb, is here to talk about the American food industry, the French food culture, and share a simple and deliciously French dessert recipe. Robyn is an expert on food and France and it is a true delight to learn from her.
Onward to wisdom from Robyn…and chocolate!
This is a tale of two movies. In May I was invited to attend the Washington, DC premier of the movie Fed Up. In this well made, well paced film produced by Laurie David, producer of the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and newswoman journalist Katie Couric, Fed Up takes a stand against the Big Food industry and its deceptive practices. The movie takes the position that the food industry is to blame heavily for the grim statistics on American’s health report, focusing deeply on our children. The film is supported by following the lives of four teens and their families as they struggle with health issues.
Coming on the heels of Fed Up, I also saw the movie Chef. A very funny, yet poignant fictional tale of a rather brash, but gets-things-done kind of chef who ends up opening up a food truck business after being fired from his job at a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles. The film’s main theme is the deliciousness of pure passion for the entire process of sourcing, cooking and enjoying food. My main take away was the bond that grew between Jon Favreau’s character, our head chef, and his curly haired, doe eyed young ten year old son Percy. Without giving away the entire movie, Percy, our junior chef, becomes drawn into the world of real food. This depiction is what I think Fed Up was trying to achieve, but instead lasered in on points that I’m not sure will ever be effective in the battle of the bulge and more.
So what does this all have to do with the title of this blog post, French Chocolate Mousse? My personal philosophy of achieving wellness is somewhere in the middle of these two American-made movies and an ocean away.
Spending most of my time on vacations in France, I’ve done more there than just visit La Tour Eiffel. I’ve spent time studying the sensible approach to French wellness. There are plenty of works that have been produced touting this approach to eating including the two best selling books in the US: French Women Don’t Get Fat and French Kids Eat Everything. So it’s not new information that the French are doing something right that looks effortless when we view them from where we sit (French women make their appearance seem effortless too, but that’s the subject of an entirely different post altogether!). So why do we here in the US always seem like we are in a fight with something or somebody when we discuss health? Why do we incessantly talk about the latest diet or next miracle cure all and the French simply don’t?
Back to each movie for a minute. We need a film like Fed Up to educate our masses who really and truly don’t know what the food industry does to our food to denigrate its nutrition. But as I perceived it, I wouldn’t put the blame as heavily on the shoulders of the food biggies as the movie suggests. I don’t work in supermarket industry, so there is no need for me to come to its rescue. I just left the movie feeling the emphasis shifted from the individual to the big bad food industry executive as the main source of the problem, which I don’t think is all of the problem. It also unnecessarily demonized sugar to the extent of suggesting we all go completely sugar free after leaving the theatre. Yes, sugar consumption is way too high in this country, but is the vilification of sugar going to effect long lasting true changes? I don’t think the French would agree as they have mastered sugar’s rightful place in the diet — on occasion and only used in real food.
But the best part of the film was just a one liner by the wonderful Michael Pollan; in essence he said to cook more. I would have liked to see more of this positive message, rather than the sense of some despair I was left with after I walked out of the auditorium. And this is where Chef comes in. You see, we all need a “chef” in our lives to get us inspired about real food. The transformation certainly happened (although fictional) in Chef.
In one important scene, young Percy begs his chef father for some Kettle Corn while they are shopping for ingredients at a farmers market. Our main man pleads with his son to give up the sugar coated carb in favor of the beautiful piece of art that is fruit. For comedic purposes, they end up getting the Kettle Corn, but this begging to try real food is just the tease of what is to come later in the film.
Our little man gets his taste buds transformed so much (there are so many examples on how this actually happens, and it’s such a great lesson in training our children. I just don’t want to ruin the movie for you, but wait until you see this little guy cook — it’s awesome!) and his curiosity gets so peaked that he turns down a trip to Disneyworld in lieu of sampling the culinary delights of New Orleans. To me, that was symbolic of sidestepping the fake world (Big Food) in favor of the real world (centuries old culinary traditions). You see, Disneyworld will probably always be there and maybe the point isn’t necessarily to laser focus on getting rid of it like Fed Up seems to want to do. If we could get our kids to be Percys who favor a trip to “New Orleans” more often, perhaps the demand for “Disneyworld” would just naturally be a lot less.
Now, when you see Chef, I’m not necessarily in favor of the kind of foods Jon Favreau is depicting cooking; there is a lot of meat and fried foods and he isn’t exactly slender, but that isn’t my point. In one scene, the scrumptious actor John Leguziamo who portrays the sous chef in the food truck business is massaging some pork in citrus juices, spices, herbs and the citrus shells of whence the juices formerly hailed. The way his hands moved over the meat you would have thought he was in some sort of steamy relationship. But I suppose he was; that’s the kind of passion that connects us to our food and hence to our care and nurturing of our health. This is what I have observed about the French and this is what I think really works.
I think what is lacking in our overall culture is solid food culture. We have beloved regional differences; but that may be part of the issue. You could say that about France too, butter may be used in one home in Paris and olive oil used on a farm in a teeny village in the South of France, but on the whole the country when it comes to food basically moves in the same direction. We should preserve our regional food differences in our country, but it needs an override of everyone having access to affordable healthy foods. We also need to stop our ever ending quest for the “right answer” and the proliferation of conflicting health information. The number of diet books, programs, weight loss supplements and other products is minuscule in France; they don’t need it, they’ve had their answer for centuries. They also don’t need a movie like Fed Up, they have so many other ways to source their food, the heavy reliance on Big Food just isn’t there. And frankly they don’t even need a film like Chef, they are already inspired and hand down that inspiration from generation to generation. I won’t say Coke hasn’t found its way into a Parisian cafe or that every French person is slim, but there is a sense that the good traditions are held firmly in the forefront while some of American food influences exist but aren’t allowed to be oppressive.
The good news is that we have started moving towards real wholeness. I loved that there wasn’t just one scene of a farmers market in Chef; there were several. As I sat in the movie, I heard a woman say to her movie going partner “You know, I’m going to get to the farmers market more often”. To me this is more action oriented inspiration rather than a beating over the head that the food industry is trying to kill us (yes, Fed Up went to that extent).
And there is a point that neither Fed Up nor Chef addressed that needs to be part of the conversation. It was easy for Michael Pollan to just say cook more; it’s obvious but said emphatically it sounded like a revolutionary idea. But in order for people to cook more, they need the resources and the biggest one is time.
In Chef, it was the chef’s actual job to cook and so he in essence always has the time. But try telling that to someone who works so many hours that there is literally no time for much else let alone cooking. I have always been in favor of a national law, whether you wish to follow it or not, to get American working hours reasonable so that a true work life balance can be achieved. My own clients tell me they actually love to cook, but really and truly they work so much (and not always on their own volition; its hard to turn down the boss sometimes) they are simply out of gas by the time it rolls around to make a meal. You could say there are many ways around the time crunch and still get dinner in the table. But that’s exactly what Big Food did, it swept in when we were too busy to notice that TV dinners aren’t exactly a home cooked meal. Healthy eating requires time and if it became nationally acceptable to give up some working hours in order to cook (and exercise, spend time with family, and…), then I’m all in favor of it.
In the meantime, it will take you no time to prepare my authentic mousse au chocolat. Real chocolate mousse has only 4 ingredients, no whipped cream and nothing artificial. And its not really sweet. I learned this many years ago at a wonderful cooking class in Paris. I think our hero young Percy would agree that a small portion of the real thing beats out a regular habit of Jello pudding cups anyday!
9 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips or broken pieces from a bar
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tiny bits
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1. In a double boiler or a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Melt the chocolate until smooth
2. Add the butter, a little at a time, whisking it in after each addition until smooth.
3. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and add in each yolk, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Let cool, while you prepare the egg whites.
4. In a clean bowl with no trace of any fat, whip the egg whites and sugar together until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, add the egg white mixture slowly, a little at a time, to the chocolate, folding in the egg whites until they disappear. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
5. Serve in small cups with a few raspberries for color!
Robyn Webb, MS is an award winning cookbook author, nutritionist, culinary instructor and Food Editor of Diabetes Forecast Magazine. She has written 16 cookbooks, including the World Gourmand award winner, The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook and the Benjamin Franklin Book Award winner, The Smart Shopper Diabetes Cookbook. She has appeared on numerous national television shows such as CNN, Food Network, Discovery Channel, Lifetime TV, CBS news, Daytime TV and more. She is frequently quoted in print and online media including The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, US News and World Report, Cooking Light, Eating Well and the Washingtonian Magazine.
Robyn’s next book is about her other passion besides food- the city of Paris! Over her many years of traveling to Paris she has become an expert in renting a Paris vacation apartment. Her book: The Paris Vacation Apartment Guide: Rent With Confidence Without Getting Overwhelmed, Ripped Off or Scammed, will be released September 17, 2014 by Eggplant Press and will be available as an ebook sold on Amazon.com for every mobile device. It’s the ultimate and definitive guide for finding the perfect Parisian apartment without the hassle.