For years a few informed chefs and food writers have been railing about the indiscriminate use of truffle oil not principally derived from truffles, in restaurants fine and not so fine. Now Daniel Patterson has let the foul, truffle-like aroma out of the bag. Patterson says, "Most commercial truffle oils are concocted by mixing olive oil with one or more compounds like 2,4-dithiapentane (the most prominent of the hundreds of aromatic molecules that make the flavor of white truffles so exciting) that have been created in a laboratory.
Many chefs regard it as a cheap thrill for both the kitchen and the diner. As S. Irene Virbila, chief restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times, said in an e-mail, "Chefs use truffle oil because it's easy to add a gloss of glamour with it--and because it helps sell dishes."
Also because it's cheap. Shea Gallante says he adds two drops of truffle oil to a midwinter black truffle pasta dish because "if I didn't use the two drops of oil I would have to add another 8 to 10 grams of truffle," making it too expensive for his customers.
What's truly interesting about the story is why Patterson didn't try to get a quote from the current high priest of American chefs, Thomas Keller, about this issue. According to the story, Keller uses truffle oil at both the French Laundry and Per Se. Serious Eaters would love to know Keller's (and other top chefs) rationale for using truffle oil. That rationale has to be some combination of price and meeting customer's expectations. We will follow up on this story.
As Patterson himself asks, "Why are so many chefs at all price points--who wouldn't dream of using vanillin instead of vanilla bean and who source their organic baby vegetables and humanely raised meats with exquisite care--using a synthetic flavoring agent."
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