As if we hadn’t already reached peak farm-to-table, forager foodie bullshit, a few Canadian chefs want you to expand your palate to a slightly more puerile level – eating dirt, like a goddamn pre-schooler, that is.
According to Canada’s The Globe and Mail, the hottest craze in Canadian fine dining is incorporating dirt onto menus of the finest restaurants. Which, honestly? Ew. The Globe talked to foraging Toronto chef Justin Cournoyer, who previously traipsed around the forest twice a week in search of foraged vegetables, and has since expanded his resume to dirt. As The Globe says, “He prefers not the silty topsoil that one could procure from a front lawn, but the stuff that is rife with pine needles, decaying organic matter and broken-down leaves. He wants the scents and sensations of an Ontario forest captured in a handful of dirt, and he wants to cook with that dirt.” Oh, okay, that makes it much more reasonable.
Apparently ‘earthiness’ is a ‘wildly popular tasting note,’ though as someone who eats food multiple times a day, I can assure you that among the myriad meal complaints I’ve bandied about, “These chicken nuggets don’t taste enough like dirt!” has rarely been one of them. Cournoyer was undeterred, boiling the soil in a pressure cooker before straining out the soil particles into a small packet, and then cooking butter alongside the packet to infuse the rich fat with the soil, producing flavors that taste like cocoa, and ostensibly, dirt. (For starters, I would prefer garlic butter myself, and also, I have spent over an hour trying to understand how ‘boiling the dirt’ doesn’t just make mud.) And it’s not just Cournoyer in Toronto – over in Montreal, chefs at Toque! have made dirt caramel syrup and dirt eggs, to “imitate the effect of a campfire.”
Though chefs since the late 1970s have been turning edible food into creations that resemble soil, though still comprised entirely of food parts, Japanese much visionary Yoshihiro Narisawa is credited as the first chef to cook with dirt. As he told a crowd at a Copenhagen food symposium back in 2011, “If soil is sourced and cooked properly, it can actually taste good. Soil is so alive.” Though geophagy, the practice of eating dirt for nutrients, exists in some cultures, it hasn’t quite cracked the mainstream, and doctors often warn against it, citing fears of botulism and bacteria spores.
But if devastating illness because you couldn’t learn a simple lesson from when you were three sounds like your cup of tea (or cup of mud), go ahead and eat the soil. Just don’t complain to us when your food tastes like, well, you know.