Getting food right is one of the trickiest
challenges of event planning. Complicating matters is an endless
stream of conflicting dietary news, which makes staying up-to-date
on the latest dos and don’ts a must. What follows are five
not-so-little secrets or myths about food that every menu planner
Not-so Chilean sea bass
The first misconception about the famed Chilean sea bass
concerns its name: There is no such thing, according to the U.S.
Department of Commerce. In fact, the fish is not a bass and is not
caught exclusively in Chilean waters. “Chilean sea bass” is a term
coined by marketers for upscale menus, where the white-meat fish
has become increasingly popular.
A more accurate name for this aquatic denizen is toothfish,
which can live 50 years and weigh 200 pounds, usually caught in
dark, icy waters near Antarctica.
Another myth is that the Chilean sea bass is on the endangered
species list kept by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It is
not. However, the Audubon Guide to Seafood says that due
to poor fishery management and high demand, commercial extinction
of the toothfish might occur by the end of 2005.
Raw sprouts: A raw deal?
Many believe raw sprouts represent the epitome of healthy
eating because they are low in fats and calories while high in
vitamins. Those crunchy little greens, found in sandwiches,
stir-frys and salads, are simply the germinating form of seeds
(like alfalfa, broccoli or sunflower) or beans (such as kidney,
navy, pinto and soy).
However, starting in 1995, a series of illness outbreaks blamed
on alfalfa and clover sprouts have marred the food’s reputation.
Mostly, the illnesses have involved the pathogenic bacteria
salmonella and E. coli. In July 1999, the FDA went so far as to
caution the public, “those persons who wish to reduce the risk of
food-borne illness from sprouts are advised not to eat raw
Consumers should cook sprouts and request that raw sprouts be
left off their food when dining out or buying salads and
sandwiches, according to the government health experts. Meeting
planners also might want to leave sprouts off the menu.
Scuffle over truffles
According to an ancient myth, truffles were created when lighting
struck the ground close to trees.
Today, many people indulge a new myth when enjoying a dish
flavored with the subterranean fungus: that the rare and precious
truffle was excavated by a muddy-booted truffle-hunter and his
trusty pig or dog, somewhere in “Old Europe.” Certainly, in Italy
and France, truffles have been dug up for a thousand years by lone
trifolao and their truffle-rooting animals, and this romantic
notion has at times helped push the price of European white
truffles to more than $100 per ounce.
But today’s “truffles” are just as likely to have come from
China, Tasmania or even North Carolina as they are from Piedmont or
The Chinese truffle is plentiful and therefore cheap, but it
can be passed off as the more rare, expensive European variety by
unscrupulous vendors. “China makes a truffle that sells for $30 per
pound,” notes Peter Urbani, vice president with Urbani Truffles USA
Ltd., the country’s largest truffle importer. “The look is the
same, but the aroma and flavor are hideous. Some chefs will shave
them and throw some truffle butter on there and call them truffles,
but they’re not.”
Truth is, many truffled dishes, so popular around Valentine’s
Day, contain no fresh truffles whatsoever. Rather, many restaurants
use prefabricated truffle butters, artificially flavored truffle
oil and truffle essences to achieve that musky, earthy taste.
Better replacements for the real deal include dried truffles and
canned, sliced truffles marketed under the name truffle