Analysis

Peas in guacamole? 'Why not?' say food innovators

Adding peas to guacamole may have ignited a culinary firestorm, but food innovators say its a price worth paying in search of palate perfection.

No palate too precious in search for taste perfection

Guacamole the way U.S. President Barack Obama likes it: avocado, garlic, onion. Hold the peas. (Associated Press)

Bal Arneson knows the pain of the palate pioneer.

As a best-selling author and TV chef, the B.C.-based cook known as The Spice Goddess has earned a reputation for adding exotic twists to culinary staples.

But even she pushed things too far by adding butter chicken to her son's pizza.

"He looked at me, and he said 'No!'" says Arneson.

"'My pizza — leave it alone. Do what you want to do with anything, but do not touch my pizza!'"

Tempest in a pea-cup?

It's not quite as bad as having the leader of the free world call you out on your guacamole recipe, but Arneson says she can empathize with the New York Times food columnist who ignited a social media firestorm last week by recommending the addition of peas to the avocado-based dip.

"Add green peas to your guacamole. Trust us," tweeted the New York Times. The reaction was felt around the globe. (New York Times/Twitter)

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke for many when he tweeted "respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. classic."

So is it just a tempest in a pea-cup, or evidence of larger frustration among food lovers sick of seeing their favourites tampered with in a never-ending quest to take things to the next level?

Did the NYT jump the guac?

Niagara College culinary innovation professor Amy Proulx says food visionaries have to walk a delicate line.

"There are certain food items that are almost sacred in our culinary canon," she says.

Turning perfection into the sublime

Maple Syrup. Chicken wings. Nachos. Hamburgers. Pizza. Spaghetti. Where one fan sees perfection, another tastes possibility.

If you like french fries, imagine adding cheese curds. A little gravy on top? Poutine is born! But then why does someone else have to take it one step further by adding foie gras?

"Some people may say adding foie gras is turning perfection into the sublime," Proulx says.

Proulx says the revitalization of macaroni and cheese is proof even the most standard of classics can handle an overhaul. Additions range from lobster to truffle oil. And cheeses have moved way beyond cheddar.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been known to gnaw on frog legs. But he draws the line at pea-based guacamole. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

"We create these fundamental dishes that drive comfort, they drive satisfaction when consuming them," says Proulx. "But there's always ways to up that satisfaction and make it even more enjoyable."

But how different is that to a child deciding to make a cake out of ketchup, pickles and bananas, just because all three things happen to taste good?

Fearless foodies

Food industry expert Christine Couvelier says an innovator's motto has to be "Why not?"

"There's no rule in a recipe that says it must be a certain way," she says.

"Recipes and tastes can always be altered. I love guacamole. I feel it's a wonderful palate to add to. So if you want to put peas in it — that's great. If you want to put arugula in it — fabulous. Edamame — wonderful."

Couvelier says she sets no limits on innovation, an approach that recently saw her sampling white chocolate mashed potatoes at a Los Angeles eatery. 

Though she does draw the line at putting cheese on a seafood pasta sauce.

For the record, Arneson likes the idea of peas in guacamole. She likes the idea of peas on anything, because it reminds her of growing up in India's Punjab region.

"It's a personal challenge," she says. 

"It's just taking it one notch higher to see how far you can push the envelope on the palate. That's why it is so much fun cooking, because everyone has a different palate."

But then this is the same woman who thought classic mac and cheese — not just pizza — might benefit from butter chicken sauce.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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