The Colonel In The Kitchen: A Surprising History Of Sous Vide

Alice Popovici wrote . . . . . . . .

Long before sous vide became a culinary sensation celebrated by top chefs around the world a retired Army colonel started cooking meat and vegetables in sealed plastic pouches immersed in a water bath to liven up the flavor of hospital food. But you’d be hard pressed to find his name associated with it.

Ambrose McGuckian wasn’t looking for accolades from food critics and gourmands. He wanted to impress hospital patients at the Greenville Hospital System in South Carolina who’d been complaining about the “institutional dullness” of their food.

McGuckian was my step-grandfather and everyone called him “Mac.” In 1968, he was the project manager of a regional study to overhaul hospital food service. He’d been instructed to improve the quality of food while keeping costs down. So he studied existing food service programs and methods of food preparation until he found a formula that boosted taste and extended shelf life.

“Traditional methods of hospital food service have locked operations into a spiral of ever-increasing costs in food, wages, equipment and supplies,” Mac, then president of a company called A.G.S. Food System, Inc., wrote in the May 1969 issue of Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly. But “water bath cooking, in which the food product is first vacuum packaged in a plastic pouch and then immersed for a specified time in water heated to and maintained at a designated temperature,” locked in flavor and streamlined food service, he wrote.

Once cooked, the food could be safely refrigerated for at least 60 days, then zapped in the microwave (yes, they had them in the foodservice industry back then) and served. No more dull, frozen-and-reheated meals, no more over-production and waste, no more pots to scrape—and the patients were happy, according to Mac’s article.

“I think it was just like, ‘Bingo, this is something that is going to change the way America eats,’ ” says Peter McGuckian. He’s Mac’s son and my step-uncle, and he remembers how excited Mac was about the project.

Fast-forward 50 years, and cooking “under vacuum” — also known as sous vide — has revolutionized the industry, helped along by Michelin-starred chefs like Thomas Keller.

Now, thanks to a new generation of tools, even home cooks can sous vide anything from roast beef to egg whites in their own kitchens.

But aside from a couple of references buried in food science textbooks, no one seems to remember my step-grandfather’s contribution.

Chefs, scientists and plastics

Most sources credit two French chefs — Bruno Goussault and George Pralus — with independently developing sous vide, then working together to refine it.

When Goussault, who’s known as the “father of sous vide,” developed the technique in 1971, he was looking for a way to improve the tenderness of roast beef. Pralus, who’s also been called the “father of sous vide,” discovered in 1974 that wrapping foie gras in plastic prevented the fatty liver from shrinking as it cooked. A few years later, the two chefs teamed up with Cryovac, a plastic manufacturer, to fine-tune the method.

By 1991, when Goussault opened the Culinary Research and Education Academy in Paris, as a training center that promised to take the technique “from boil-in-bag to haute cuisine,” sous vide was on its way.

Goussault leads sous vide seminars for the culinary school, which trains chefs throughout the world, and is chief scientist at Cuisine Solutions, a large-scale sous vide supplier based in Virginia. I recently asked him whether he’d heard of my step-grandfather’s work. He said he hadn’t, but that he was familiar with the Nacka System, which was developed in Swedish hospitals in the 1960s, according to a Canadian research book on the principles of sous vide.

In this system — which Mac tested during his project — items were fully cooked, then vacuum-sealed, refrigerated and boiled before serving. But those who sampled the results said the food had a “tired” taste, likely as a result of overcooking.

Even before Nacka, there was interest in how the new soft plastics being developed could be used in the kitchen, but not necessarily for cooking.

In the 1960s, as people started buying more prepared foods, there was a push to develop lightweight containers, says Julie Goddard, an associate professor at Cornell University who studies the intersection of food and materials science.

Food scientist and culinary anthropologist Carl Rietz describes cooking in plastic in his 1961 book on culinary techniques, and warned against vapor pressure causing the plastic to rip.

Sous vide has come a long way since then.

These days, chefs have temperature controllers that can help “dial in texture,” says Chris Loss, a professor of food science at Cornell University. “You definitely can change the sensory properties of foods by trapping in those aromas and juices.”

The Cryovac system

Mac, who died in 2000, spent his career in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, in charge of organizing military food supplies during and after World War II. After retiring in 1964 as a colonel, he started a personnel firm placing Army veterans in food service jobs. Then he was hired by chemicals giant W.R. Grace as a consultant on the South Carolina hospital study.

Around the same time, his son Peter remembers coming home from college to find various sealed plastic packages in his parents’ refrigerator. Sometimes, Mac would ask him to open up a pouch and taste what was inside.

“One time, I said, ‘Hey Dad, that’s been in there for a little while,’ ” Peter remembers. “Go ahead, try it,” Mac insisted, and Peter did. “You’ve got to trust your dad, right?”

Mac called his technique “the A.G.S. System,” named for the company formed to produce food and distribute it to the three hospitals in Anderson, Greenville, and Spartanburg, S.C. But it’s more commonly known as “the Cryovac system,” for the manufacturer of plastic packaging and water bath cookers used in the project. Cryovac was a division of W.R. Grace.

Mac patented the technique in the U.S. and a few other countries, but Cryovac claimed ownership of the technique because Mac was one of its contractors when he developed it. They went back and forth over the rights for years, based on documents and correspondence Mac saved. Sometime in the early ’70s they reached a cross-licensing arrangement, with A.G.S. as the formal assignee for Mac’s patent.

But in 1978, Mac writes in a letter to A.G.S. that Cryovac lawyers told him the patent wasn’t worth “really anything.” Mac writes that he decided “ownership of the patent, worthless as it may be, would mean more to me than ownership of 4,000 shares of AGS stock.” He asked for an exchange.

“[The patent] was important to my father because it was his baby and it was a significant development in the food industry at the time,” remembers Peter’s brother, Paul McGuckian, who is my stepfather. Paul, a retired judge, served as his father’s attorney during negotiations with Cryovac and W.R. Grace in the 1970s. “He hoped he could make some money from it.”

As far as we know, he never did. Eventually the patent faded from everyone’s memory.

Now Cryovac is owned by Sealed Air. Asked for a comment on this story, a company representative emailed a statement describing “a long line of contributions to the advancement of food safety and food packaging.”

Source: npr

Lettuce Wraps with Stir-fried Pork and Shiitake


1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
1 lb lean ground pork
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup canned sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 rib celery, diced
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
12 leaves Boston lettuce


  1. Combine hoisin sauce, cornstarch and 1/2 cup water. Set aside.
  2. In large nonstick skillet, brown pork over medium-high heat, breaking up with spatula, until no longer pink, about 6 minutes.
  3. Remove from pan. Drain fat and wipe skillet clean.
  4. Add oil to skillet. Saute ginger and garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add red pepper, mushrooms, water chestnuts, celery, salt and pepper. Stir-fry until red pepper and celery are tender-crisp, about 3 minutes.
  6. Return pork to pan, stirring to combine. Stir in hoisin mixture. Cook, stirring, until thickened and glossy, about 1 minute. Toss with green onions. Serve in lettuce cups.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Canadian Living

Video: Making a 16 Pound Sushi Donut

Watch video at You Tube (1:37 minutes) . . . . .

Nutrition Researchers Agree Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Increase Risk of Cardiometabolic Disease

Amy Quinton wrote . . . . . . . . .

The sugar substitute aspartame does not cause weight gain in adults

While calories from any food have the potential to increase the risk of obesity and other cardiometabolic diseases, 22 nutrition researchers agree that sugar-sweetened beverages play a unique role in chronic health problems. The disease risk increases even when the beverages are consumed within diets that do not result in weight gain.

It’s just one of the conclusions published today in Obesity Reviews in a position paper by a group of researchers who participated in the 2017 CrossFit Foundation Academic Conference. The task of researchers was to deliberate the question: Are all calories equal with regards to effects on cardiometabolic disease and obesity? The paper provides an extensive review of the current science on diets that can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

The paper’s sugar-sweetened beverage consensus is particularly relevant in light of a recent legal battle over warning labels on soda, which hinged on the 9th Circuit Court’s determination of whether soda and other sweetened beverages are uniquely harmful to human health or one source of calories among many.

“What’s new is that this is an impressive group of scientists with vast experience in nutrition and metabolism agreeing with the conclusion that sugar-sweetened beverages increase cardiometabolic risk factors compared to equal amounts of starch,” said lead author Kimber Stanhope, a research nutritional biologist with the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Sugar substitute won’t make you fat

Another interesting point of consensus among researchers is the role of the sugar substitute aspartame. The authors agreed that aspartame does not promote weight gain in adults. Stanhope said this might come as a surprise to most people.

“If you go on the internet and look up aspartame, the layperson would be convinced that aspartame is going to make them fat, but it’s not,” said Stanhope. “The long and short of it is that no human studies on noncaloric sweeteners show weight gain.”

The authors also agreed that consumption of polyunsaturated (n-6) fats, such as those found in some vegetable oils, seeds and nuts, lowers disease risk when compared with equal amounts of saturated fats. However, that conclusion comes with a caveat. Dairy foods such as cheese and yogurts, which can be high in saturated fats, have been associated with reduced cardiometabolic risk.

The paper reviews the significant challenges involved in conducting and interpreting nutrition research. “We have a long way to go to get precise answers on a lot of different nutrition issues,” said Stanhope. “Nevertheless, we all agree that a healthy diet pattern consisting of minimally processed whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats promotes health compared with the refined and palatable typical Western diet pattern.”

Source: University of California, Davis

Following Five Healthy Lifestyle Habits May Increase Life Expectancy by Decade or More

Maintaining five healthy habits—eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking—during adulthood may add more than a decade to life expectancy, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers also found that U.S. women and men who maintained the healthiest lifestyles were 82% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 65% less likely to die from cancer when compared with those with the least healthy lifestyles over the course of the roughly 30-year study period.

The study is the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of adopting low-risk lifestyle factors on life expectancy in the U.S. It was published online in Circulation.

Americans have a shorter average life expectancy—79.3 years—than almost all other high-income countries. The U.S. ranked 31st in the world for life expectancy in 2015. The new study aimed to quantify how much healthy lifestyle factors might be able to boost longevity in the U.S.

Harvard Chan researchers and colleagues looked at 34 years of data from 78,865 women and 27 years of data from 44,354 men participating in, respectively, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The researchers looked at how five low-risk lifestyle factors—not smoking, low body mass index (18.5-24.9 kg/m2), at least 30 minutes or more per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, moderate alcohol intake (for example, up to about one 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women, or up to two glasses for men), and a healthy diet—might impact mortality.

For study participants who didn’t adopt any of the low-risk lifestyle factors, the researchers estimated that life expectancy at age 50 was 29 years for women and 25.5 years for men. But for those who adopted all five low-risk factors, life expectancy at age 50 was projected to be 43.1 years for women and 37.6 years for men. In other words, women who maintained all five healthy habits gained, on average, 14 years of life, and men who did so gained 12 years, compared with those who didn’t maintain healthy habits.

Compared with those who didn’t follow any of the healthy lifestyle habits, those who followed all five were 74% less likely to die during the study period. The researchers also found that there was a dose-response relationship between each individual healthy lifestyle behavior and a reduced risk of early death, and that the combination of all five healthy behaviors was linked with the most additional years of life.

“This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the U.S. population,” said Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. “However, adherence to healthy lifestyle habits is very low. Therefore, public policies should put more emphasis on creating healthy food, built, and social environments to support and promote healthy diet and lifestyles.”

Source : Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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