Cooking Potency and Flavor: two sides of the same coin

Cooking Potency and Flavor: two sides of the same coin

Cooking. Why elite athletes and elite chefs both require locally sourced, seasonally appropriate produce and proteins.

Food porn: Jacques Pepin’s sublime roast chicken - perfection in 50-minutes. So easy a caveman could do it.

Basic cooking skills are a virtue. The ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill…just as horsemanship, archery and facility with language was once considered “essential” manly arts, so too should be cooking…one might be reasonably expected to have a small but serviceable list of dishes and meals. In the happy, shiny perfect world of the far-flung future, what should every man, woman and teenager know what to do?

You should know how to chop and dice an onion. Basic knife skills are a must. You should be able to make an egg omelet. Egg cooking demands sensitivity and touch. Given the woeful state of backyard grilling, a priority should be assigned to instructing people on the correct way to grill. No one knows how to properly grill a perfect steak – and equally important – how to rest a steak before serving. Cooking vegetables to a desired doneness is easy enough and reasonable to expect of any citizen of voting age.

Everyone should be able to roast a chicken. And be able to do it well. A standard vinaigrette (salad dressing) is something anyone can and should be able to construct. The ability to shop for fresh produce and to have some sense of what is in season, to tell whether or not something is ripe or rotten, should be tested at the same time as taking a driver’s test. How to recognize a fish that is fresh, and how to clean and filet a whole fish would seem a no-brainer as a basic survival skill.

Steaming a lobster or a crab – or a pot of mussels or clams – is something a fairly bright chimp could do. Every citizen should know how to throw a piece of meat into an oven with the expectation that they will roast it to the desired degree of doneness. One should be able to roast and mash potatoes – and make rice, both steamed and the slightly more difficult pilaf method. The fundamentals of braising and sautéing opens the door to countless other preparations. Everyone should be encouraged at every turn to develop their own modest yet unique and accomplished repertoire. - Anthony Bourdain

Potency and taste are inexorably intertwined. Top chefs and top athletes both seek the same foodstuffs for different reasons: elite chef seeks flavor and taste above all else. The most vibrant taste is always found in the freshest ingredients. The elite athlete seeks nutrient potency above all else. The most potent produce and protein are always found in the freshest ingredients. The fresher and more natural the ingredients, the greater the vibrancy of taste and the greater the nutritional potency.

From the athlete’s perspective the better the food-fuel, the better the results. Potent, power-packed, nutrient-dense foods provide the raw building blocks needed for the construction of new muscle. Quality nutrients heal a battered body after an effective resistance training session, flooding shattered muscles with glycogen-replenishing natural carbohydrates and high BV amino-acid replenishing protein.

Proper potent post-workout nutritional replenishment (replacing what the body expended during the training session) accelerates recovery. Intense training without quality nutrition is a recipe for disaster: over tonus, over training, is real.

If you insist on beating the body to a pulp, then starving it, it is only a matter of time before you break the body. Results stall when starved. At the other extreme, being overfed the wrong foods is a recipe for adding copious amounts of body fat and ruining your health. All calories are not created equal: shrimp and asparagus trump pizza and ice cream every single time. Does anyone seriously debate this? Quality matters.

Most real athletes really like to eat. Those athletes that are facile and comfortable in the kitchen are far more likely to succeed in their transformational efforts than athletes that depend on others to prep and prepare the quality food/fuel required each and every day, world without end. Those athletes that depend on mom, the girlfriend, a wife, or a local restaurant to provide them their daily nutrition are always at the mercy of others.

This is precarious and unnecessary. Basic cookery, fundamental preparation of repeating produce and proteins is not rocket science. As Bourdain eloquently and convincingly lays out, kitchen neophytes should learn at least those most basic of kitchen skills, ones that will enable them to seize control of their own culinary destiny. Why be dependent on others? Do others grocery shop for you? Do you have access to the power foods needed when you need them? Someone must obtain and prepare them. This makes things difficult and complicated.

If you can operate a can opener, you have more than enough brainpower to create a perfectly cooked, pan-sautéed, sirloin cheeseburger – with fried onions. And have it done within 10-minutes of walking into the kitchen, less wait time than carryout at the local restaurant. Season a thick burger with salt and pepper. Sear on each side for a few minutes. One burger chef trick: drop a couple tablespoons of water onto the hot burger pan when the burger is done searing. Immediately cover the pan with a lid. The steam cooks the meat to even, wonderful, still moist, final finished doneness.

Use a $10 meat thermometer and pull the burger when the internal temperature hits 125-degrees. Let it rest for five full minutes. A thermometer creates perfect burgers every time. I put several slices of differing cheeses atop the burger when the steaming starts. Diced onions sauté alongside the burger as it cooks. I throw the onions and cheeseburger atop a buttered brioche bun, also steamed, with some sort of mustard or mayo aioli.

Look at the recipe at the bottom of the page and note how simple it is to roast a perfect chicken Jacques Pepin style. Pepin is a revered chef, none more respected. One whole bird will create many protein portions. Note Pepin’s fantastic tip: roast the bird on its sides! 20-minutes on each side and finish with 10 minutes breast up. This immortal French chef was once asked, if he could pick, what would his last meal be? Without hesitation he said “a slow roasted chicken with roast potatoes, exactly the way my mother made it. That dish birthed my love of cooking.”

Chefs and athletes seek the same organic, locally sourced, seasonally appropriate, nutrient-dense foodstuffs. It would make sense for the athletes to consult the chefs on how best to simply prepare their proteins and produce. For kitchen dolts, what is the simplest, easiest way to make the best possible dishes and meals? The smart athlete expropriates simple techniques for prepping power foods.

With the Food Network and YouTube, anyone anywhere can research how best to simply prepare whatever quality foodstuffs can be obtained. Be it shrimp, a filet of Steelhead Trout, a great cut of lamb, obtained at the butcher shop. At the local Farmer’s Market, the athlete/chef might obtain produce picked yesterday form the people that grew it: asparagus, spinach, red peppers, tiny red potatoes, or radishes with dirt still on them.

Obtaining quality ingredients is only half the battle: knowing how to prepare these quality ingredients simply, effectively, quickly, and respectfully, completes the process: seek out the finest organic products and prepare them expertly and with great efficiency and ease. There are few things in life more satisfying then being able to obtain, prepare and enjoy a dish or meal of your own making. My own benchmark is, “If I were served this in a restaurant, would I be happy with it?”

Obtaining quality ingredients often requires straying outside your comfort zone. Do you have a local butcher? a fishmonger? Where is the Farmer’s Market? Fruit and vegetable stand? Smaller purveyors have fresher, better quality products for cheaper than the chain supermarkets - they must attract the business. If the butcher shop does not have better product and lower prices, they cannot compete with the one-stop-shopping lure of the big conglomerates. Ditto the Farmer’s Market: the only way they can lure customers away from the supermarkets is better, fresher, more variety, cheaper.

If you are a serious athlete, you need to get serious about cooking and feeding yourself. The better the food-fuel the better the workouts and the faster the recovery. Try your hand on the proteins and produce you find yourself regularly eating. That way you can assemble the kitchen tools needed and start getting in plenty of skill-building reps.  Learning how to cook is really a matter of repetition. One way to learn how to cook a hamburger properly is cook hamburgers dozens of times. Go online to get some amazing tips from real pros – and its free information. Regardless the foodstuff, repeatedly working with it hones your skills and improves results. Practice makes perfect.

Jacques Pepin Oven Roasted Chicken: so easy a powerlifter could do it

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with the salt and pepper and fold the wings akimbo to position them closer to the body. Place the chicken on its side in an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast-iron.
  2. Place the chicken in the skillet in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook another 20 minutes. (By cooking the chicken on its sides, the juices stay in the breast and, since only the back is exposed, the chicken does not need constant basting.) Finally, turn the chicken onto its back, baste it with the cooking juices and continue to cook 10 minutes. It should be golden in color.

This is cooking minimalism. What could be simpler?

RAW with Marty Gallagher, J.P. Brice and Jim Steel Podcast RAW with Marty Gallagher, J.P. Brice and Jim Steel Podcast


About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.